Leadership: Clarity

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Almost all the leadership topics of the day wind up talking about “clarity” at one point or another. Why is that? I noticed this phenomenon while reading such diverse topics as “employee engagement,” “vision and purpose statements,” “execution culture,” “developing leaders,” “executive coaching” and “what motivates employees.” The common thread I noticed was clarity.

The online dictionary defines clarity as: (1) the quality of being easily understood; (2) the quality of being expressed, remembered, understood, etc. in a very exact way; and (3) the quality of being easily seen or heard. As far as I’m concerned, all of these definitions fit clarity as it applies to leadership. In a similar vein, I see clarity as fundamental to great leadership.

In his book, Turn the Ship Around!, David Marquet states that there are two pillars necessary to building leadership at every level of your organization: Technical Competency and Clarity. I couldn’t agree more. If we truly believe that our organizations need people to think rather than just follow orders, then we have little choice but to make sure that our employees have both the tools (technical competencies) and the corporate values (clarity of why, as Simon Sinek would say) to make decisions on their own.

Late Breaking News: We were all edited and had scheduled this post when I received new information. Readers of the ELC newsletter and this blog will know that I am a huge fan of Capt. L. David Marquet, USN (Ret.) and his unparalleled leadership book, Turn the Ship Around!. Well, The Navy has added it to the Chief of Naval Operations Professional Reading Program. Quite an honor for Capt. Marquet. Congratulations, Sir!

On a slightly different tack, Patrick Lencioni in his new book The Advantage, states that what leaders must do to give employees the clarity they need, is to agree on the answers to six simple but critical questions:

  • Why do we exist? (Core purpose – it is apirational not tactical.)
  • How do we behave? (Intolerant of not living the core purpose.)
  • What do we do? (Business definition – NOT mission or vision)
  • How will we succeed? (Strategy or plan for success. Key anchors.)
  • What is most important, right now? (Addresses organizational ADD and Silos.)
  • Who must do what? (Don’t take this for granted.)

Another point to be made on clarity is that it is a never ending process for leadership. It must be over-communicated — constantly. Clarity isn’t achieved by printing slogans on mugs, hats or banners. It is by constant living out of the organizational values at the top and being intolerant of those who would subvert that clarity by not living out the values.

This all seems self-evident to me, yet it is very rare to find organizations with truly clear purposes. How can we then be surprised that, according to a recent Gallop survey, over 70% of our employees/members are disengaged? Daniel Pink believes there are three things that motivate employees and get them engaged: Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose. And that lines up with what we hear from Marquet, Sinek and Lencioni, as well as any of the work done in trying to find out what makes organizations great. The question is simple then — what are you doing to make sure the “Why” is clear. The solution is not so easy, it’s definitely hard work. Get started.