Do you know the most important question to ask in any meeting or business interaction? It’s “What needs to be different when we are done?” In other words, what tangible, concrete outcome do you want to walk away with, that you didn’t have to come in? On my World Class Leaders Show podcast, I recently hosted Ann Latham, author of a new book, “The Power of Clarity”. Ann has written several other titles, such as “The Clarity Papers” and “Uncommon Meetings.” Her work has been endorsed by several luminaries, such as Marshall Goldsmith, Seth Godin, and Daniel Pink among others. Ann founded the consulting organization Uncommon Clarity and her clients range across over 40 industries, from non-profits to Fortune 100 companies. Clarity is the number one idea and focus that everyone should have today, as we go through the incredible level of uncertainty we are all facing now. The reality of our current environment is that most leaders aren’t as clear as they think they are — there are huge opportunities for improvement. The lack of clarity builds frustration, destroys relationships, and erodes confidence; it impacts productivity and wastes time and money.
Why is Clarity missing right now?Ultimately, we’ve never learned how to create clarity. Some people are naturally a little more clear than others, but they generally don’t really know what they do or how to teach it. Even though we make decisions all day, every day, we don’t have a simple, standard process that we all agree on for doing so. In general, we’re not good at establishing and focusing on our priority. We allow too many other mechanisms to keep adding items to our to-do list, such as email, or meeting action items.
Setting a PriorityPriority is an interesting word, stemming from a Latin phrase. Up until quite recently (around the 1950s) there was no plural form of the word because there really should be only ONE priority. The impact of the lack of clarity in priority setting can be seen across an organization in widespread confusion, decision paralysis, and failure to deliver high performance.
Effective Ways for Handling Overwhelming WorkWhen people find themselves with too much to do, there are several effective ways to deal with the situation. There’s also one ineffective way, which tends to be the one that is almost always chosen.
- Abandon holdovers from the past that aren’t relevant to the work at hand.
- Determine and postpone activities that can be done later.
- Identify areas where perfection is not necessary, and 80% can be good enough.
- Outsource or delegate tasks where possible.
- Create a new and improved methodology; work smarter, not harder
Misaligned ExpectationsWhen leaders delegate without clear communication on outcomes, or they pose vague requests to their employees without specificity, it results in a lack of shared vision and misaligned expectations. Often, both parties are unable to understand that the root cause of a major failure or business disaster resulted from a lack of clarity at the outset. Some people try to do exactly what they’ve been told if they were given a process without understanding the outcome. Some people will ask clarifying questions, but many may be too intimidated. The most important question to ask, is to gain a full understanding of the expected outcome: “What should be different when we’re done?” Leaders should encourage their employees to ask clarifying questions to assist in improving their communications every time.
Five Steps Leaders can take to Improve ClarityIn Ann’s words: “I believe in a few years, any leader who doesn’t understand what clarity is all about, who doesn’t understand the power of clarity, doesn’t recognize clarity blindness when they see it, is going to be laughed out of a leadership job. Because it’s a huge opportunity to make improvements, and you can’t be unaware of it.”
- Awareness: The first thing to do is to recognize the problem exists i.e. the lack of clarity surrounding the issues.
- Develop Skills: Start recognizing how you can make those improvements by being more specific.
- Institutionalize it: Create process clarity by using standardized processes for making decisions, and solving problems.
- Build New habits: Learn how to focus and eliminate distractions and disruptions. This requires setting priorities and narrowing your to-do list.
- Create Opportunity: The final task is to provide space for people to find the time to think more about their activities, their processes, and their expected outcomes.