The laser and the lighthouse
BUSINESS MATTERS BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE - Francis J. Kong (The Philippine Star) - August 23, 2020 - 12:00am

There is a lighthouse and there is laser. Both are important but they have their own unique function.

Suppose you live in one of those beautiful resort spots in the country. You get a call. The resort manager wanted you to buy something in town, and you need to deliver the stuff and bring it to the resort island. The only way you can do that is to take a boat. The night is cloudy, you have no sense of direction, the night is pitch black, and the only thing that can guide you to your destination is that lighthouse on the island resort. And so you navigate the sea, and the beam from the lighthouse helps you avoid running into boulders or running aground. You are thankful for the lighthouse, but it’s function does not help you get to your objective efficiently. In this case, therefore, the lighthouse helps you avoid failure, but it does not exactly help you in achieving success.

Let me give you another case. The same resort manager has a cool tech product. On your boat and likewise, on the shore of the island resort, there is a device that can produce a laser light beamed on each other, so all you have to do is to follow it, and it brings you straight to your destination. As long as you follow the laser, you will be able to get to where you are going. It makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

Many leaders are operating as a lighthouse. While they may give general directions like “you should not go there,” “you go there instead.” The only problem here is that the leaders do not provide the team with a clear sense of direction. The team now has to figure out what they need to do, and the process takes up a lot of time and energy and causes stress, especially if the boss, later on, says, “But that is not what I wanted.”

The team now would take up a defensive posture and would make a “safe” decision rather than a “good” or “creative” decision. Without a laser-like direction, the team would be forced to consider too many options and usually end up taking the safest and most “average” option. So, you end up having mediocre or average work because of the need to be “safe.”

It is always better to provide a laser-like clear path than just to tell the team where not to go. This way, the leaders are not just pointing to a destination; they provide the path.

Here are a few ideas on what the leaders should do to provide directions that reduce ambiguity and avoid needless waste of time.

1. Define your team’s real work by explaining “why.”

Behind every creative work, there is always the objective of solving problems. Define what the problems and issues are. How well you define those problems is critical to your team’s effectiveness. Take the time to explain the “why” the project is required.

2. assign the who for the task.

Your team should be clear on which problems they should devote their attention to and which they should let someone else worry about. And you do not stop there. The leader has to make sure that there is accountability for specific tasks by defined deadlines. There are times when some ambitious team members might take it upon themselves to shoulder problems that are really nothing more than a distraction from their core work or are already owned by someone else on the team. Acknowledge their ideas and zeal but steer them again with laser-like directions to their core task.

3. Contextualize their work.

Tie in your team’s work back to the “main thing.” Regular chats and feedback keep the leader within the radar so they can spot if there is work done that does not align with the overall objective. Each person in your team has their own unique experiences and perspectives. The team should periodically see the big picture and where they are in it. Understanding context reduces conflicts and misunderstandings.

And finally, you, the leader, will make the final decision. Indecision is worse than making the wrong decision. Your objective as a leader is not to please everyone as your decision may contradict another person in your team’s personal preference. But the leader alone bears the responsibility for the outcome of your team’s work, and that is why you make the decision. So be a laser-leader. Your team needs you to.

(Connect with Francis Kong in Or listen to “Business Matters” Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. over 98.7 DZFE-FM ‘The Master’s Touch’, the classical music station.)

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