How much is too much direction? The common misperception is that giving detailed directions equals micromanaging. But clarity cannot be overemphasized. Vicki Halsey, author of Brilliance by Design, believes that people crave direction when first learning. Rather than relying on trial-and-error, she emphasizes giving clear direction to support success.
First, managers need to shift their own beliefs about directions. Clear directions are neither constricting nor excessive. Beginning learners are committed to achieving success and want more direction to ensure security. Directions range from detailed definitions, concrete examples, past models, or step-by-step instructions. But be sure that all your directions are clear and concise. It's important to provide a variety of directions as well to accommodate for different learning styles (i.e. illustrations for visual learners and hands-on simulations for kinesthetic learners). By providing a clear and balanced set of directions, you can set up your employees for success!
At the initial stage of development, learners want MORE direction. Managers must respond accordingly by providing a directive style of leadership. According to the Situational Leadership® II model, initially, learners correspond to high commitment and low competence. It's important to direct their earnest efforts toward the right path so they can practice the correct procedure repeatedly. This learning system builds their competence and advances their level of development. Think of a bowling alley. The bumper rails along with specific suggestions for HOW to bowl represent the clear directions that beginning learners need to successfully get a strike. Of course, you could choose no bumper rails, but this would only delay the learning process and the ultimate success of the learner.
The belief that directions, or effective teaching, constrict and interfere with employee development is wrong. Instead, managers must shift their belief to see that clear directions −like specifics for HOW to do the task along with bumper rails− guide their learners towards success.
Roselyn Cantu is a research assistant intern for Vicki Halsey at the Ken Blanchard Companies and is on track towards her BA in International Relations. She can be reached at