Powerful Protocol

Would you like the ability to keep your team engaged with their work?

Knowing and consistently doing what is needed, expected or desired of you can increase your power as a leader and your team’s engagement on the job.

Here’s some advice from one of our partners Don Brown on developing and following a leader’s protocol.

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Power in Protocol

One can define “protocol” as:

  1. an accepted code of behavior
  2. a prescribed approach for correct conduct or action
  3. a set of conventional principles and expectations.

A living example would be a physician’s protocol. When interacting with patients with compromised immune systems the protocol calls for disinfectant, gloves and masks before any contact with a patient. These actions are universally expected and accepted in preventing or avoiding infection.

What then are the accepted actions, principles and expectations for a leader’s conduct?

Our study of employees from Singapore to Syracuse reveals a triad of expectations. Your followers want three things from leadership: Communication, Feedback and Autonomy. Make these your “Leader’s Protocol.”

Following this protocol is key to preventing disengagement in your team.


Your first consideration when someone knocks on your office door and asks, “Got a minute?” lies in understanding and responding to the communication need that exists in that moment with that person.

Two questions might help you master the communication protocol:

  1. What is the purpose of your communication? There are really only three reasons we communicate; to relate (to establish or maintain association), to influence (to sway or have a desired effect), or to inform (to transfer knowledge or provoke awareness). Try determining or setting the purpose of your communication before you speak.
  2. What style of communication would be most effective? The easiest taxonomy to use is that of extrovert versus introvert. If you’re talking to an introvert, try being a little quieter yourself – a little less talkative. If that person is an extrovert, try to open up just a bit.

The rules of engagement are simple: Understand your purpose, and adapt to their style.


They want to know how they’re doing! They want to know what you think. They want feedback, and they want it from you.

Feedback can take on two forms – process and praise – and they’re both important.

Process – When you’re addressing process, three words are relevant in the moment: quality, quantity and time. Quality means, are they meeting your specification as to how well it needs to be done?

Quantity invokes a number, a metric. Are their numbers made or missed? Also, time as a reflection of performance with respect to deadline. Are they first or last, early or late?

Praise – When offering praise, three words are also relevant: effort, contribution, and growth.  Effort is about energy, intensity, and exertion. Contribution is about either personal output or impact on others. Growth is about discernible improvement.

Try communicating how they’re doing with regards to their effort, contribution or growth.


This last element in a leader’s protocol is autonomy. Look for places to grant it. Followers care about independence. They want responsibility, and the freedom to make decisions (and even mistakes).

Indicators of autonomy weigh heavily on the minds of your team members. They think about it a lot. In response, you should be thinking about ownership and exit.

Ownership – The central question is, should their efforts be self-directed or directed by you? And, what is your own degree of reluctance to let go? Key to making this call is clarity around the nature of the task involved, and the authority to act. Strangely enough, their autonomy is in your hands. Remember that.

Exit – the second consideration in letting go is having a conscious exit strategy to get you out of their work. To do this, understand two concepts: data and delta.

Data has to do with facts, statistics or information used as your basis for decision-making. What data do you need to see to be able to let go? The word “delta” signifies change. Look for changes in their performance that demonstrate a new level of mastery. We can almost always spot growth – but only if we’re looking for it. Let your exit strategy accelerate along the curve of their competence.

There is power in protocol. Let your leadership wisely and consistently provide helpful communication, timely feedback and a generous amount of autonomy. Our challenge in leading in a no-normal world will be adopting – and practicing – this powerful leader’s protocol.


*To better your interpersonal communication and adapt to the extroverts and the introverts on your team, try an Interaction Report. To provide truly robust feedback, try an i360 Report.  To accelerate competence and autonomy, try Performance Coaching.

Don Brown dedicates his career to leadership, sales and service effectiveness. Learn more about Don, his services, and his books at http://www.donbrown.org.