We are often in the role of providing guidance to those who provide direction to others—executive, managers, community leaders, parents and coaches—and we regularly find that they have many and varied expectations and “rules” for performance. We also find that the people they are directing often report that they are constantly guessing about whether they know the rule of the day.

In over twenty years of coaching and consulting, we have found that people are most successful when they have 3 – 5 key expectations or “rules” that can guide their behavior, their choices, and their thinking as they face the myriad of decisions they have to make in any day or week. For example, in a recent conversation with an executive who was struggling with several members of his team, we asked that he consider the 3 – 5 “rules” that he believed were most important to the team’s success.

His list included the following:

  • Both the organization (as a whole) and the individual departments must be considered in all decisions—no silos
  • Actions or decisions that would put the company in jeopardy will be discussed with me (their manager) before implementation
  • They will look out for one another and support one another’s success by recognizing effective behaviors and bringing concerning behaviors to their peers and teams directly and quickly


When he was clear about these expectations, he found that his team operated more independently yet brought issues that could put the company, a department, or an initiative in jeopardy to him early in the game. In turn, his team developed their own teams using the same guidelines (although there are times when these guidelines are different for different levels of the organization) so that they also began to function at higher and higher levels.

The key to finding the 3 – 5 rules is to keep them broad enough to allow for independent thinking but bounded enough to provide the structure within which the people using them can achieve success.

At some point in life, most of us are in charge of providing guidance, direction, and management to others. As you reflect on the people who you manage (or parent), we’d ask that you identify the 3 – 5 rules that are most important to you and to their success, and begin to discuss these explicitly.