Thursday, June 9, 2016

Morey's Law #8 - Stated vs Implied Tasks

Morey's Laws is about leadership lessons and experiences that aren't typically covered in a case study or process. I previously shared an example of Stated vs. Implied Tasks back in 2011. Now, in case there is confusion, we have a more recent example thanks to the recent flooding in Texas this spring.
Check out these videos:

The first video made national news feeds in May. Apparently an older gentleman was driving his car into a flooded street, even though the water level was quite deep. Although this may have been obvious to most people, this gentleman drives into the water, and his car starts to sink. The reporter has to yell for the gentleman to swim, as he is confused and probably quite scared about what is going on. It isn't until the reporter yells at him that the stranded driver abandons his vehicle and swims for the side of the road.

This would be an example of an implied task. The task was: don't drive in the flooded road. It is implied because there is no signage to inform people that the road is impassable. The driver missed the implied task, and had to take a swim.

The other day I was driving back from San Antonio to Houston, using some feeder and back roads along the way to avoid stopped traffic. At one point I came upon "Road Closed" signs blocking my path forward. Like most other people, I executed a U-turn and backtracked to a new street. The second video shows a male driver in a similar situation, but instead of a U-turn, he ignored the road closure signs, drove around the blockade, and proceeded into the flooded street. His car is swept away down the street, off the road, and into more trouble. This video was in South Carolina in 2015, not Texas 2016, but it could easily have been. In fact there is a video of a woman who drove into a flooded underpass, but I chose not to share that here.

In this case, the task is stated. The road is closed: don't drive in the flooded road. What makes this more sad is that the person purposely ignored the stated task and created a problem for himself and others.

What are the lessons for a leader from this situation?

1. Implied tasks are often missed. Your people may not even be aware of the level of danger. Just because you as a leader think a person should know about an implied task doesn't mean they do. Perhaps they don't have the full details, or have experiences that show something different than what you may think is obvious. Remember my Diffuser posts (and the second)? If your communication is unclear or not even stated because you think something is obvious, then you are leaving things open to interpretation. Will your team drive into deep water and not even know it?

2. Stated tasks are harder to miss, but can still be ignored. In my case, I saw the road closed sign, knew that there was flooding in the area and decided to heed the stated task by turning around and finding an alternative route. In the case of the video with the second driver, he ignored the stated task, driving into the water, flooding his vehicle, and (probably) having to take a swim. From a leadership perspective, even if you clearly state the tasks (and take into account the Diffusers), your team may think they know better, and decide to ignore the task. You can address this by making semi-regular status checks (called spot-checks in the military) to ensure people are moving in the right direction and not driving into deep water.

Sadly, the only way you can possibly avoid this situation is to be constantly present, looking over their shoulder. Micro-managing every step. But that is not an effective use of your time, and the team will become resentful.  Instead, be clear with your communication, conduct the spot checks, and trust that your team is smart enough to avoid taking a swim!


  1. Well said man! This article was quite interesting to read. At the first few sentences, I couldn't understand what you want to state here but while completing the whole, I got it. Both of the videos were funny and these are perfect examples to make the readers understand the concept of stated and implied task and how a leader would reach at this time. Both of the fellow are just too dump. How they put their car into such deep volume of water despite thinking of its engine and the possible outcomes from it. Their cars would have definitely been RIP.

    1. Thank you Justin. As I was writing this, I realized that I was being a little vague, but I hope the payoff was worth it. If you really like it, please feel free to share!

  2. This article is very exciting while i started reading the blog i was not getting anything. After i have the completed article then i got idea what the author want to share with us. Its better to have some idea about the mechanism of cars. Its true that we are not serious about the road signs and the level of danger. Really author has great heart and full of patience so that they can manage in the flooded area. car service