Many  of  today's  leadership  practices  are  rooted  in historical military testing, application, and refinement. But what can business leaders gain from current-day military, specifically Navy, leadership practices that have been honed for years and now are used with today's more complex, competitive leadership environment? A lot!

The next time you hear a business leader complain about "the new generation worker" and how they cannot motivate them and how they take no initiative, consider this:

I had the privilege of spending a weekend aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, about 100 miles offshore as it prepared for a deployment. This aircraft carrier is the proud flagship of the Navy's fleet and is a floating city. Over 5,000 sailors live and work on it. They perform the most complex flight operations in the most tumultuous conditions, day and night, with zero degrees of freedom. The cost of error is tens of millions of dollars in damaged Navy assets or even loss of life. No Top Gun movie scene here. This is the real-life danger zone!

This type of environment demands nothing less than fully synchronized teamwork, passionate selflessness, relentless effort, and consistent execution. All this is delivered by sailors with an average age of 20 years old. So, this peak level of performance is achieved with thousands of 18- and 19-year-olds, most of whom did not have a clear direction after graduating high school, let alone have an MBA. It is mind-boggling when I couch this against clients who are frustrated with their highly educated team's performance while they are working in nicely appointed, air-conditioned, land-based offices. At the core of this level of Naval performance is crystal-clear expectations. 

At the most basic level, the job of a coach is to equip team members with knowledge and tools to be successful. A leader is only successful if his or her team is successful. That includes educating team members on organizational systems like budgeting, goal setting, and authority levels for spending and training.

The leader must also educate his or her team on informal "learning the ropes" things like company culture norms during working hours, lunchtime, meetings etiquette, attire, how presentations are made, key people to keep in the loop, and how decisions are really made, regardless of what the policy states.

Equipping your team by explaining these aspects of the job is not a one-time thing you check off your leadership list. Inspiring coaches continually explain, educate, and equip their team with tips, tools, training, and insights.

Just like winning a sports game starts at the beginning with good practice, winning in business starts at the beginning of the performance process. If you wait until the end, then you are simply imposing consequences rather  than  inspiring  positive  performance.  That's why aligning on expectations is a good predictor of winning business results.

Expectation gaps lead to execution gaps. The large majority of performance frustrations stem from not communicating clear expectations up front. There- fore, the coaching key is to front-end-load clarity. You and your team should be able to easily align on the answer to this question: "How will I know if I have met expectations?" 

We cannot rely on others' perceptions of our expectations. The imperfect nature of human communication requires us to be more specific than we think we need to be. Lack of clear expectations is the most com- mon reason for performance problems. There is not really a close second. Gaining alignment through clear expectations is job No. 1 for inspiring coaches.


Learn more fromn the author's latest book, The Power of Positive Coaching.