Before sending a team off to solve a problem or delegating a task to a colleague, the best leaders spend the time to clarify the criteria of a successful outcome. By offering the guardrails of what is acceptable, feasible, and expected in an outcome, leaders paint a vivid picture of what needs to go right. This often saves enormous time. There is no need for teams and individuals to spend hours and days on work the leader will later reject.
When leaders are surprised by the outcome produced by others, it is usually their own fault. Without a clear picture of what a leader is expecting, even the most skillful and hard-working teams can produce a dud.
Making the effort to talk through what a successful outcome looks like is always time well spent for leaders. In this critical conversation, leaders state clearly any constraints the team or individual is under, what guardrails need to be observed, and what qualities the end result must incorporate.
This clarification not only saves time but avoids the crestfallen displays and anger felt by others when they show up with a work product that misses the mark the leader expected. Perhaps nothing demotivates high-performing teams more than being blindsided by criteria after the fact.
The standards by which leaders will eventually judge the end result or outcome comprises the criteria of success they offer others. Those leaders who religiously take the time to clarify these criteria enjoy better work products from those they lead.
When they themselves are asked to take on and complete a project, they make sure to ask for this criteria upfront, before any work begins. Knowing before the work begins what a great result looks like is a boon for leaders and those that follow them. Great work depends on clear criteria for success. Anything less is a chance not worth taking.