Your Leadership User’s Manual

by | Oct 21, 2022 | Professional Growth

A woman standing outside of a vehicle, with the hood propped up, reading the user's manual.

“Everyone is flailing through this life without an owner’s manual, with whatever modicum of grace
and good humor we can manage.”

– Anne Lamott

In the glove department of our vehicles, we find a guide that explains how our car operates. The user’s manual details what we can expect the car to do, and there are suggestions for optimizing the car’s performance. What if leaders also offered a personal user’s manual, to help our people better understand how we operate.

I had a supervisor years ago who introduced me to the leader’s user’s manual concept. My first day on the job I walked into his office expecting to get a blast of leadership — telling me what I needed to do. Instead, he shared a one-page document that changed my leadership mindset for the rest of my career.

My supervisor shared his three pet peeves and mutual expectations. His pet peeves were his hot buttons — negativity, excuses rather than solutions, and tardiness. When we discussed expectations, I was surprised how he started.

Rather than telling me what to do, he pledged to build a positive working environment where I could succeed. He held himself accountable to help me grow as a leader, including three principles:

  • He will always tell me the truth
  • He will always sponsor my career
  • He will always support me — he has my back

Following his expectations for himself, he shared what he needed from me:

  • Say what you are thinking
  • Own your results — good and bad
  • Give him leadership feedback — allow him to adjust

His message was clear – he needed to be an “A” leader to expect “A” performance from me. He was the best leader I ever worked for.

Who is the best leader you ever worked for? Who earned your respect by committing to be their personal best and enabled you to excel in your role? As you think about these questions, imagine how others perceive you. To be your best, enable others to understand what it is like to work for and with you.

Three keys to introducing a Leadership User’s Manual:

Your Work Style

We all have a unique work style. Two keys to describing your style are communication and authority. Let your users know the best way to communicate with you – email or a phone call? Clarify the amount of authority your people have — when do you want to be involved?


Share your priorities so people understand what matters most. Clarify the difference between urgent and important. A key expectation – what is your expected turnaround time on emails and phone calls?

Feedback Loop

How do you know if the leadership expectations you set for yourself are working? Ask. We all have blind spots, where our behavior is ineffective. A great question to ask your direct reports — how am I getting in the way of your ability to meet your goals?

What is in your glove department? Sharing your leadership style, urgency expectations, and asking for feedback builds trust with those who follow you. When people clearly understand how you operate, they follow you because they want to – not because they have to.

Leading Your Team

Attached is a copy of the one-page leadership user’s manual I used with my direct reports. I shared this at team meetings and 1-1 monthly visits to build common ground.

Todd Popham’s Leadership Expectations

Read to Lead

Leaders benefit from being active readers, long reads not just social media posts and news feeds. A deep read builds concentration, strengthens your intellectual capacity, and offers wisdom you can share. As you refresh or build your reading habit, diversify your experience – old, new, fiction, non-fiction, audio, hard cover, and e readers.


My September favorites:

The Human Sales Factor
by Lance Tyson
Tyson explores the sales process through a human-to-human lens. His message is we are all in sales, and that selling is not about moving a product or service — it is about moving people. We need to understand the customer is buying us first. A helpful self-assessment resource for both sales professionals and leaders.

Solito by Javier Zamora
A powerful novel describing the experience of a nine-year-old boy’s journey migrating from El Salvador to the United States. He leaves behind his grandparents and aunt to travel over three thousand miles to join his parents in the USA. His story is filled with adversity yet incredible determination to achieve his dream. Our leadership journeys may hold less drama, yet we need grit and clear goals to achieve success.


Have a great week!