How to Avoid Unnecessary Confusion With This Simple Leadership Tool

As a leader, you have to influence others. This sometimes means telling them what to do.

When you’re leading on-on-one, you can be casual and conversational in your direction, and, for the most part, can get your point across.  If the person you’re leading doesn’t get it, you’ll have direct and immediate feedback that they’re lost.

However, when you’re leading larger groups, the likelihood that someone’s not following you clearly multiplies exponentially.   To make things worse, because you’re working with more people, it’s easy for the person who’s lost or confused to hide out behind their colleagues.  You won’t be able to see first-hand if they really get what’s expected.

So what’s a leader who strives for clarity and precision to do?

Follow the Elephant Rule.

You know the saying:

How do You Eat An Elephant?    One bite at a time.Applied in a leadership context, the Elephant Rule means: break your instructions into simple discrete chunks.  Each chunk should be a single action.  Don’t assume everyone can take in all the information at once and then turn around and act accordingly.

Here’s an example.  You’re leading a sales-training course, and want the trainees to practice a role-play scenario.  The trainees will work in trios:  one trainee will play the role of the salesperson, one will play the prospect, and one will be the observer.  At the end of the role play, the observer will give the salesperson feedback.  Then they switch roles, until they each play each role.  They have a total of 30 minutes for the exercise.

If you were to just present this information as written above, some people will become confused.  Instead, using the Elephant Rule, it would look like this:

  • Everyone stand up. (Wait.)

  • Go and stand with two other people, and form a trio. (Wait until they do.)

  • Decide who is A, who is B, who is C. (Wait until they do.)

  • A: You will play the role of Salesperson.

  • B: You will play the prospect.

  • C: You will be the observer.

  • I’m handing out a one-page context overview of the scenario. Everyone read it fully. (Wait.)

  • We’ll role play this three times, so everyone has a chance to play each role.

  • Observers, use the observer feedback form on the back of the one-page handout.

  • You will have six minutes for the role play. Listen for the bell to signify we’re done. Round 1 begin now.

  • Ring bell. Observers, you have three minutes to give feedback to the salesperson. Go.

  • Ring bell. Switch roles. Salesperson, you’re now prospect. Prospect, you’re now observer. Observer, you’re now salesperson. You have six minutes. Go.

  • (Repeat instructions and rotate until the end.)

By chunking out your instructions, people only need to keep one action in their working memory at any given time, and are free to focus on doing the task, rather than doubting and questioning if they’re doing the right task at the right time.

Obviously, the Elephant Rule doesn’t work in every situation, but in the situations where it does apply, it’s worth it’s weight in gold.

What other techniques do you use to avoid confusion?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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