To Be Clear

Lance Discipline, Leadership, People Leave a Comment

“Where do you want to eat for dinner?”
“I don’t know.”
“How ’bout Chinese?”
“What are you in the mood for?”
“I don’t care. Nothing heavy.”

If you’ve had that kind of discussion once, you’ve had it a hundred times. We humans are notorious for being imprecise when trying to positively describe something we want, yet quite specific in what we don’t. There are examples of this asymmetric phenomenon all around us:

  • the date who doesn’t know what she’s looking for in a mate, exactly … but that you’re most definitely not it;
  • the jurist who can’t explain a legal rule, but will recognize its violation because he will “know it when I see it”;
  • the person who hates their job (which is 2 out of every 3 people) but can’t quite articulate the new job they would like to go get.

This sometimes maddening aspect of humanity is worsened when we look to our leaders for guidance only to receive direction that is no less fuzzy, mushy, or foggy.

  • Telling your sales team to sell more and “hit their number” isn’t leading.
  • Telling your product team to be more innovative isn’t leading.
  • Telling your organization to collaborate more isn’t leading.
  • Telling your employee to get better isn’t leading.
  • Telling your kids to be more responsible isn’t leading.

adv_model1Such opaque, jargon-checking efforts create confusion instead of clarity — as people are left to guess what is actually meant and how it is expected to be accomplished — and set up a cycle of continued frustration as the real expectations go unmet. It takes time that is precious, thought that is introspective, and work that is hard to move beyond the wholly unsatisfying blandness of general directives to the energy-infusing refreshment of genuine clarity — the Holy Grail of organizational leadership. And yet, identifying with clarity what is expected, communicating that with clarity, and reinforcing that clarity at every opportunity is the job of Leadership for which you signed up. If you didn’t understand that clearly before taking the job, go talk to your leader.



(I’m a big believer in Patrick Lencioni’s Organizational Health model, in which Clarity is 75% of the focus. For more, check out his latest bestseller, The Advantage.)

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