Leaders Help Teams Interpret Their Environment

Have you ever driven in the country only to wonder how to find your destination when there are no signs; only dirt roads?


Isn’t it interesting that the people that live there have no trouble at all and know right where to go?

Directions are given assuming you know where you are

Locals give directions using local landmarks and use phrases such as, “… you’ll find it North of the big rock about 3/4 mile.” Or, “…keep driving until you hit blacktop road, then continual another 2 miles and go East for 2 miles until you see the big tree . . . you can’t miss it!

These were the types of directions I would receive from my grandparents when I came to visit them out in the country when I was growing up. Their directions where clear when one understood the landmarks, however, as a kid who wasn’t from there, it made it very difficult to know where I was and where we were going and even how we were going to get there. I was always happy that my Dad was there to interpret.

Interpreting landmarks

In the world of work today some teams unexpectedly find themselves in trouble when they encounter new situations and have difficulty interpreting when the environment has changed.

Less experienced leaders and team members that have not seen trouble, felt it, or smelled it may think everything is okay and that “they got it.”

Unfortunately, there are times they don’t know how to get back on track. Worse, they may not yet even know they are lost because they are working hard and still traveling miles every day. The problem is that they have entered a new place; one where the landmarks are more difficult to interpret and unless they are wise enough to ask for help they find themselves in trouble.

Our responsibility

As leaders who are responsible for many teams, this is one of those times when we must be vigilant and employ a different leadership style to help them. While there are times when people get stuck, we let them struggle and get unstuck, but there are other times that if we let them struggle too much they will tire and give up, go the wrong way without knowing, or even blow up the team trying to get free.

When we see our teams struggle it may be a time to offer more than encouragement. Instead, it may be the time to jump in and help them. As we have all experienced, there are times we don’t like to ask for directions, even when we truly need them.

The leader that knows their teams well will offer what’s needed in the right time. While the team may not fully recognize the help they have received today, as they mature the realization will set in that it was their leader that helped them interpret the changing environment.