Communication is of utmost importance if you are to be an effective leader. So how can you improve your style? Last week I wrote about the importance of being analytical and data-driven to best delineate your ideas and motivate your team. 

This week, I'll be covering what I feel is one of the most misunderstood--and misapplied--characteristics of communication: what I call "structured" thinking.

Structured thinking is process-driven. It's the practical part of your brain that considers details, organization, and replicable guidelines, or frameworks. It brings order to chaos.

People who have a tendency to think in a structured way often have their files perfectly organized, their schedules set weeks or even months in advance, and send out meticulous and exhaustive follow-up. They approach their ideas with caution, and map out detailed contingencies in their implementation plans.

What is structured leadership?

Likewise, a structured leader is someone who creates a process and structure for success, someone who doesn't fly off the handle or make rash decisions.

Structured leaders naturally define objectives, develop process and road maps, pinpoint roles and responsibilities, develop timelines and schedules, establish milestones and checkpoints, determine success metrics, and identify control mechanisms. 

Sounds pretty ideal. So what makes it misunderstood?

When you think of the greatest leadership qualities, words like "inspiring," "creative," and "innovative" probably come to mind. When you think of Steve Jobs, my guess is that you picture the black-turtlenecked oracle standing in front of a giant screen articulating a vision for beautiful, conceptual technology that changes the world. But were his visionary qualities really what made him standout as a leader? Or was it his relentless attention to detail--a "structured" commitment to exactitude and perfectionistic implementation plan?

In his New York Times article "What Makes Steve Jobs Great," Joe Nocera detailed not only Jobs' visionary genius but also his quest for perfection.

I encourage you to embrace your structured tendencies; if you do, you'll bring some of your most valuable leadership qualities to the table.

Where you can go wrong as a structured leader.

Creating a communication plan for structured thinking isn't always easy, especially as a leader. You've got complex communication channels with employees spread throughout departments, teams, and locations.

Here's where the misapplication often happens--swing too far to the structured end and you risk being labeled like Jobs as a "maniacal micromanager." If you don't naturally think in a structured manner, you can come across as vague, out-of-touch, and with your head in the clouds.

At the same time, your workforce is made up of employees who not only need structure and process, they crave it. They're clamoring for you to give them the detailed plans to execute on (because they'll no doubt cross the T's and dot the i's to ensure it's perfect).

So here's how to communicate as a structured leader.

Put yourself in the mind of your employee. Ask yourself, 'How does a person with a structured mind think?'

1. A structured thinker learns by doing.
Provide plenty of "how-to" information and don't deviate from your message. 

2. He wants practicality.
Make your communication convey a common sense rationale in straightforward terms.

3. He's sequential.
Hand out a step-by-step implementation plan and a guide for how things need to be done. Or, if that's not your strength, provide as many details as possible, and let someone else take the lead on creating a step-by-step plan.

4. He likes guidelines.
Ideas are great, but free-wheeling, nebulous concepts are not. Communicate in concrete terms and explain the rules. Written communication can often be help a structured mind have notes to refer back to. 

Structured leadership boils down to communicating a specific, desired outcome, providing the tools to complete the assignment, and articulating how to do it. Then just leave your employees alone. The work will get done--on time, on budget, and with precision.