I am very fond of the book The One Thing You Need to Know by Marcus Buckingham. There are a number of useful concepts in this book, but the one that I liked best was Buckingham’s focus on clarity.
As leaders, we spend a lot of our time developing the skill of communication in our organizations. We speak to our teams and employees about how vital effective communication is and how we must practice this with everyone we engage in conversations. We insist that our managers master this skill and develop it in all of their people. When we think our managers are not listening to us about how importance effective communication, we holler at them to “wake up and smell the coffee” and see that the communication within their teams needs some attention and improvement. What I’m wondering is……are we clear in the messages we are sending?
In reading Mr. Buckingham’s book, the one thing that resonated most with me is the absolute necessity that managers and leaders speak with clarity. Clarity – what does that mean exactly? And how do we establish it in everything we do?
Think about this for a moment: when you last addressed your team, or an audience, or the whole company, were you sure everyone was on the same page when you were done speaking? Were you confident that your message could be passed down to another layer of employees and that this group would receive the same message and there would be a shared understanding of the outcome? Have you thought every time you addressed a group that your message should be so clear, so simple, that it could be understood and translated to 4 or 40,000 people? Here’s the rub: is our advanced communication getting in the way of our clarity?
What does clarity mean and how do you know if you have it?
The official definition is “free from obscurity and easy to understand; the comprehensibility of clear expression.” There is nothing more likely to create chaos in an organization than confusion and unclear communication. So, how does one establish clarity? Mr. Marcus Buckingham suggests you focus on four powerful and defining questions: (1) Who do we serve?, (2) What is our core strength?, (3) What is our core score? and, finally, (4) What actions can we take today?
Question 1: Who do we serve?
When answering this question, you must tell your team clearly and vividly, who their main audience is. Tell them who they should empathize with most closely. Tell them who will be judging their success. When you do this with clarity, you give your people confidence – confidence in their judgment and confidence in their decisions. It frees them to better serve those you have identified are the one audience whom they serve. Please do not give them many masters – it only adds confusion; pick one and focus on it. This clear strategy makes it easy to follow you.
Question 2: What is our core strength?
Thirty years ago, Peter Drucker wrote, “the most effective organizations get their strengths together and make their weaknesses irrelevant”. No statement could be truer today. Focusing on weaknesses brings down your team. Look at your core strength and go after the business and situations that play to this strength. Understanding and clearly communicating your core strength allows people to follow the vision you create.
Question 3: What is our core score?
Simply put, this means finding a way to measure success. This is the most important contribution you can give your organization or team. Once defined, your people know when they are achieving their objectives, when to work harder or faster, and when they are winning! Defining that measure is hard, but essential. If you want people to follow you and take initiative, tell them what the core score is, so they know what to use to measure their progress. This also gives an additional benefit of people being able to manage their progress, so you don’t have to be the one that always does it!
Question 4: What actions can we take today?
Action is unambiguous. Actions are clear and they speak volumes. Actions let people know exactly what to do. As a leader, there are many actions that you can take each day. The question to ask is “what actions can I take today that will have the most meaningful impact on my people and those we serve, and will move us closer to achieving our goals?” Remember, choose your actions carefully, and choose just a few. Guided by the clarity of your actions, your team can move into the future easily and without the fear of the unknown. This will not only instill confidence in you, but also raise the confidence of your people.
What can you do?
I strongly suggest you begin by answering the four questions above. If you think they already exist in your organization, go out and test that assumption with a group of people from all levels. Do their answers match your own? Do they match each other’s? This is one way to know if you are bringing clarity to your organization as a leader.
One last thought:
In the military, the general leading the charge must be clear or his people die. In sports, the coach, quarterback or captain must be clear or the team loses. The same can be said in your businesses. If, as a leader, you are not clear, then the company runs the risk of losing – losing clients, market share or potentially dying and closing your doors. I encourage you (not by hollering at you) to look at all the messages you are sending – verbally, by e-mail, and in meetings – are they clear? Because as leaders, it’s okay to be wrong, but it isn’t okay to be unclear; the risks are too high – what you must be is clear.
Grace Andrews • Executive Coach/Corporate Healer • President, Training By Design • Boston, MA • firstname.lastname@example.org • www.training-by-design.com