With Martin G. Moore

Episode #257

Your Leadership User Manual: Clarifying expectations for success

I came across an article by Shanna Hocking, which introduced me to the concept of the Leadership User Manual. Hocking credits its origins to Adam Bryant, who wrote an article almost 10 years ago titled, What if you had to write a user manual about your leadership style?

Imagine the power of a physical document that can help your people to understand how they can best work with you. What a great idea!

Knowing how your boss operates, and what he values, could save you years of guesswork, as the only other way to work it out is through trial and error. I wish I’d thought of this years ago!

In this episode, I take a deep dive into the concept of the leadership user manual. I look at the benefits and risks, and I take you along the journey with me as I develop my own inaugural leadership user manual.

We’ve also created a leadership user manual template so that you can develop your own guide.


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Episode #257 Your Leadership User Manual: Clarifying expectations for success


Let me begin by saying we’re breaking new ground together here today. I never implemented the concept of a leadership user manual in the days when I was leading large groups of people in corporate., so my assessment of the risks and benefits is going to be an extrapolation of my experience. This is slightly different from my usual content, which I base on my direct experience in the leadership trenches, having tested to find out what works and what doesn’t. But I’m sure you’ll bear with me as we explore this together.

Here are five benefits that I think are immediately obvious in developing a leadership user manual for your people.

1. It can be an excellent tool for establishing principles.

Once people understand the principles for how something works (or, at least how something’s supposed to work), it gives it meaning. It makes it easier to understand the why. Ray Dalio wrote an excellent book a number of years ago, which was called Principles, and it does exactly that. It’s not an easy read, but it’s a must-read.

Your principles provide a blueprint for successfully accomplishing things in the right way. Most companies have KPIs to define the what, but principles allow you to speak the language of the why, and the how. This is a critical step in instilling an ethical frame for the way your people operate.

2. It’s a referenceable record

You can put this at the center of any conversation. Almost no one understands exactly what you’re trying to communicate, and it certainly takes a lot more than one meeting to convey your expectations for pretty much everything.

Many conversations (sometimes dozens), are needed using different language and emphasizing different points before the penny drops. A leadership user manual would give you a referenceable point of consistency to keep coming back to.

For example, “Remember last week I said X, well, that was based on this principle. The situation I’m talking about now is similar to that. The same principle applies.”

3. Consistency

It enables you to take seemingly unrelated events, decisions or directions and tie them back to a consistent set of operating behaviors. It takes the guesswork out of what you might be looking for at any given point, and why you might be looking for it. However, the downside of consistency is predictability (which we’ll get to shortly).

4. It can extend the reach of your code of conduct

Assuming your company has a stated set of values, or a code of conduct, it can help to clarify expectations even further. Your leadership user guide shouldn’t contradict the code of conduct, of course, but it will enable you to put greater granularity around some of the expectations.

It also allows for the individualization of the guidelines in the code of conduct for different leaders, which demonstrates that there are many different ways to skin a cat. It’s an extra mechanism for describing the desired behaviors that you expect your people to live by.

5. It keeps you honest.

Think about this. Once a leader puts her formal user manual in place, she’d really think twice about departing from these clearly stated principles. It takes away a lot of the wriggle room.

You’d have to be a bit of a sociopath to produce a formal leadership user manual and then completely ignore it.


There seem to be a few pretty compelling reasons for putting one of these puppies together. But like anything, there are risks. I can think of four pretty obvious risks straight away.

1. It puts the emphasis on other people adapting to your style.

And as useful as it is to set clear expectations for your people, it can naturally set the stage for a one-way flow of expectations.

In the interview I did with Scott Miller just a few weeks ago, I asked him what the biggest trend he was seeing in leadership. Scott’s view was that post-pandemic, the biggest trend was the requirement for individualization.

Producing a leadership user manual could well make a leader think their job is done, and that their people will adapt to their style. This is unlikely to be effective in the longer term. The role of leadership isn’t simply to be understood, but to understand your people on an individual basis. That’s how you’ll ultimately get through to them.

2. Your leadership user manual will be necessary, but not sufficient.

It may dampen your sense of urgency around verbal face-to-face communication. But as we know, there’s no substitute for eyeball to eyeball interactions.

Let’s say all your people actually take the time to read and absorb your leadership user manual (which, in itself, of course, is a bit of a stretch).

Those who do will understand some of it, but not all of it.

They’ll interpret some of it accurately, and much of it inaccurately.

They’ll believe some things you say and feel as though they have good cause to not believe other things you say.

They’ll agree with some of the principles and probably disagree with others.

Your leadership user manual sets the foundation for you to have the many conversations you need to have to influence your people. But remember, it’s the means to an end, not the end in itself.

3. Your leadership user manual might make your people feel that you’re overly predictable.

Although predictability is generally desirable, there’s a downside.

For example, if people feel as though they can predict what you’re thinking, they’ll start to make assumptions. I’ve seen people stop challenging the status quo because they prefer to not do the heavy lifting required to challenge it.

Well, we know Marty’s going to want us to do X.

Or even worse, “Marty says he wants X.

I’ve been there, guys! On top of that, people become desensitized to messages over time. At the end of my five year tenure at CS Energy, I was sick of repeating the same key messages over and over and over.

Let’s face it, if people were actually doing what they knew they should, I wouldn’t have had to reiterate the point so often. But even though everyone pretty much knew that they hadn’t done what they were supposed to do, I could still see them mentally rolling their eyes. I could see it on their faces:

Yeah, we know, Marty. You’ve been telling us for five years.

Okay. If you know, have you ever thought it might be worth actually doing something about it?

4. There’s often a gap between how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us.

This can be tricky and it’s quite a high risk. If your people see you as espousing certain values or operating principles, but then behaving differently, it can be really damaging.

You can easily be labeled as a hypocrite even when you are consistent… so imagine when you’re not! Opening up the door to inconsistency is a risk. It’s a risk worth taking, but a risk, nonetheless.


All right, if you were working for me and I was going to describe how I work, and how to meet my expectations, here’s what I would tell you.

Per Adam Bryant and Shannon Hocking, I’d have the following eight categories in my leadership user manual (which you can get here):

  1. My personal style

  2. My leadership philosophy

  3. How to get the best out of me

  4. Things I find difficult to tolerate

  5. How to communicate with me

  6. How to be wildly successful

  7. What people tend to misunderstand about me, and

  8. You won’t enjoy working for me if…

 Let’s start with number one:

1. My personal style

I’m direct (you’ll never be in doubt what I’m thinking).

I’m open (there are no sacred cows and there’s no conventional wisdom that I’m not prepared to question).

I cut to the chase (I don’t dance around issues. I speak my mind frankly and fearlessly to get to the crux of the matter).

I’m inquisitive (I want to know how things work, and I want to know why you hold a particular viewpoint… you need to be able to communicate that to me).

I’m courageous (I’ve never been afraid of losing my job and, although I don’t set out to offend anyone, I’m not hamstrung by the fear of not being liked. I’m quite happy to disagree with the most powerful person in the room if I don’t agree with them).

I challenge (I’ll always push the boundaries to try to find higher performance, greater efficiency, and better results).

I have a sense of humor (I crack jokes frequently—it helps me to regulate my other stylistic elements. If it wasn’t for my ability to find humor in any situation, my style would probably make me feel way too serious and intense).

Finally, I’m awesome at the detail… (when I need to be! But I much prefer to stay at a higher level. I will always remain in the contextual space by default, taking a view from 10,000 feet).

That’s my style.

2. My philosophy

I could have gone all day on this one, but I tried to boil it down to the essential elements.

Respect before popularity (do the right thing when it needs to be done because it’s right).

The standard you walk past is the standard you set (it’s a leader’s obligation to set and maintain high standards for both performance and behavior).

People have to be held individually accountable for their choices (if there are no consequences, there’s no incentive to perform—people just don’t give their best unless they feel that weight). Optimal performance only comes when people are stretched (…beyond their comfort zones, their natural limits–which is also the place where they’re happiest).

Leaders have to differentiate between individuals based on merit (never sink to the lowest common denominator… it’s not your job to make everyone feel good about themselves).

If you choose to take on a leadership role, then doing the hard work of leadership is not negotiable (you have to put your people’s best interests ahead of your own fear and discomfort).

You don’t get a free kick on leadership work just because you are a brilliant strategist or an incredible rainmaker (I expect you to put as much effort into developing talent and building capability as you do into any other part of your accountabilities).

You need to create a culture that focuses on value delivery (no blame, no excuses—respectful but challenging, with an uncompromising focus on excellence over perfection).

And, finally, for the avoidance of doubt, I believe that competitive markets are the sole pathway to higher living standards and prosperity (competition makes us all better—without it, we become fat, dumb, and happy).

Just those first two, my style and philosophy, will give you a pretty good idea of what you’re in for when you work for me. But let me finish off with a quick whip through the other six:

3. How to get the best out of me

Engage! (make me part of your journey, share your challenges and problems… I see it as a privilege, not a burden to be given the opportunity to help you perform. If you’re operating with good intent and diligence, I’ll overlook a lot of other issues).

Use me for my strategic thinking ability (I know that one of my superpowers is my capacity for abstract reasoning—that’s recognizing patterns and applying them to new problems and scenarios… if you bring the detail, you’ll be able to get the benefit of my high order sense-making skills and judgment).

4. Things I find difficult to tolerate

This one’s simple:

Dishonesty of any kind

Entitlement mentality




Sugarcoating a situation to play down its true level of criticality

Hiding bad news or covering up problems

My mantra is: bad news by rocket, good news by rickshaw.

5. How to communicate with me.

I’m direct, open, and transparent in my communication style (I value that really highly in myself and others—the more straightforward you are, the easier our flow of communication will be).

Don’t write lengthy documents (your written communication should be clear, simple, and direct… if you can’t explain something complex in simple terms, it tells me that you don’t understand it well enough).

Talk to me at the high level in terms of outcomes (you can fill in the gaps with details as we move through the discussion… don’t try to beat me into submission by bombarding me with details in the hope of convincing me about something—it just won’t work).

6. How to be wildly successful

Obviously, focus on value (understand what the biggest value levers are and focus solely on those).

Fight with every fibre of your being to eliminate non-valuating work (always think and talk about results, not activity and processes).

Do the hard work of leadership (get comfortable with difficult conversations… challenge and allow yourself to be challenged… do the basics well—performance management, capability building, and accelerating talent development).

Oh yeah, and don’t believe your own bullsh!t.

7. What people tend to misunderstand about me

People sometimes think I don’t care about a crisis situation (I’m very relaxed, even when I’m under extreme pressure, and I often use humor as a stress management tool for both me and my team).

People sometimes think I only care about the results, not the people (just because I focus on results so strongly…. but nothing could be further from the truth—it’s only people that give business meaning. Those people aren’t just the employees—who are just one critical stakeholder group of many—we also have to consider customers, shareholders, suppliers, the communities in which we operate… the list goes on).

I genuinely believe that superior performance is the only way to truly satisfy all stakeholders (including employees).

8. You won’t enjoy working for me if… (this is a good one. I had fun with this).

You won’t enjoy working for me if you aren’t prepared to give your best.

You won’t enjoy working for me if you just want to cruise along and count the hours of the day (and if that’s the way you feel, you have no business being on my team).

You won’t enjoy working for me if you don’t believe in the principle of meritocracy (because you’ll feel hard done by when those who perform get the rewards that they’ve earned and you’re overlooked based on your relative underperformance).

You won’t enjoy working for me if you aren’t comfortable with constructive tension, and

You definitely won’t enjoy working for me if you aren’t prepared to take unwavering accountability for your performance and behavior.

what is my leadership style?

Given that’s my first crack at developing my leadership user manual, I think it’s a pretty good start. It needs some fine-tuning, no doubt, but it’s a pretty reasonable representation of who I am and how I operate.

I really hope you’re going to take the opportunity to develop your own leadership user manual, so that you can give your team greater clarity about how to be successful under your leadership. To make this easier for you, don’t forget to download your own leadership user manual template.

I’ve been asked many times, particularly over the last few years since Em and I started our current business, to describe my leadership style. My answer’s always been pretty simple:

If you want to be your best… if you’re ambitious and career-driven and you want to play on a winning team, then I’ll be the best boss you’ve ever had.

But if you just want to cruise along and do an average job, you will hate every minute that you work for me. Why? Because I’m not going to let you be mediocre.

If that’s what you want, I totally understand and, without any hard feelings, I’d be happy to support you by helping you find another role that’s more suited to your aspirations.”

In the future, when I’m asked this same question, I won’t need to explain it all. I’ll just hand them a copy of my leadership user manual.


  • Your Leadership User Manual – Download PDF Here

  • Ep #254 – What The Best Leaders Do Differently with Scott J Miller – Listen Here

  • Ep #207: Leadership Transparency – Listen Here

  • Ep #189: Successful Transformation – Listen Here

  • Ep #163: Communicating Value and Acing Accountability Q&A – Listen Here


  • Explore other podcast episodes – Here

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