Leaders Must Identify the Place, Clear the Path, and Set the Pace

bigstock_Sunrise_4172670If you think you’re leading and no one is following,
then you’re only taking a walk.

Leadership is about going somewhere. It’s about getting a group of people to mesh their talents, work together, and move from point A to point B. In order to do that, leaders need to identify the place, clear the path, and set the pace.

Identify the Place – Leaders need to identify where the team is headed. It may be a specific destination, a particular goal, an ideal to strive for, or a vision of the future state the team or organization is trying to achieve. Regardless of what the “place” is, your team needs to know it and you need to identify it. If the leader doesn’t identify the place, the team will wander aimlessly wasting time, energy, and resources on misguided activities. There is a scene from Alice in Wonderland that captures the danger of not having the “place” identified. On her journey Alice encounters the Cheshire Cat and asks him, “Would you tell me please which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where–,” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

Clear the Path – Once the place has been identified, leaders need to clear the path. The path is the “how” – the strategies, tactics, and goals the team is going to employ to reach its destination. A common leadership pitfall is thinking that identifying the place and declaring the grand vision of the future automatically means people will know how to get there. Identifying the place is the easy part; clearing the path is where the hard work takes place. Leaders need to get their hands dirty by working alongside their team members to develop project plans, chart milestones, clarify roles and responsibilities, and monitor progress along the way. Clearing the path is easier when more people are involved so engage your team in developing the battle plan. Those who plan the battle are less likely to battle the plan.

Set the Pace – Leaders set the pace for the team. How fast or slow the team moves will largely be up to the tempo the leader sets from the front. But setting the right pace takes good judgment and discernment. Move too fast and you burn people out. Move too slow and your efforts fail from lack of momentum. Leaders need to make sure team members know the pace of the race. Is it a sprint, a marathon, or something in between? One of the primary reasons organizational change initiatives fail is leaders try to move too fast. Leaders, by their very nature, are often moving faster than the average team member, and they assume that everyone moves (or at least should move) at the same speed. Make sure you set the right pace so your team can keep up and finish the race strong.

The place, path, and pace. Identify it, clear it, and set it.

8 Comments on “Leaders Must Identify the Place, Clear the Path, and Set the Pace

  1. Hi Randy
    This is a very good article. I don’t know about you, but for me the pace is the biggest challenge. This has two reasons: patience is not really one of my virtues and therefore I typically work fast. Also I can take this into account if I set timelines people in a team have very different paces and working styles which only in extreme cases should be corrected. If the leader knows the team this becomes easier but in a project one has frequently people who they never have worked with before. How do you deal with this?

    Have a great week

    • Hello Brigitte,

      As always, thank you for your thoughtful comments. Managing work in a team environment where people may move at different paces can be challenging indeed. One technique that has worked well with me is developing the timelines in a collaborative manner with the team. It can be a little more time consuming to work through the process, but it offers everyone the opportunity to contribute, debate, and ultimately agree on the plan. I alluded to that in the article when I talked about developing the battle plan with the team, because those who plan the battle, rarely battle the plan.

      Take care,


  2. Randy,

    I, too, particularly appreciated the point about pace. That’s a new thought to ponder for me, but I can definitely see how it could derail those on a clear path to a clear target.

    Thanks again,

    • Beth,

      Choosing the right pace for your team can be a tricky proposition! It’s important to find that right balance.

      I’m glad you found the article helpful. Thanks for your comments!


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