Jack, a coaching client, came to our meeting visibly upset. “I don’t know what else to do with this employee,” he lamented. “He’s got a track record of success and incredible potential, but he doesn’t get the job done. Everything I’ve delegated to him comes back unfinished or subpar.”

“How does he respond when you discuss this with him?” I asked. 

“I tell him to focus on quality and doing things right; Janelle (his vice president) tells him to speed up because time is of the essence; his co-worker Amy does the same work but has shown him a completely different way of doing it than how he was taught.” A light bulb seemed to come on for Jack in that moment. “I guess he doesn’t know who to listen to or what matters most.”

This illustrates a common leadership scenario. How many times have you read a company’s (maybe your company’s) mission statement touting what matters most - then seen completely different principles in action?

Ambiguity = Conflict. 

In many ways, successful leadership comes down to one word: CLARITY. In his best-selling book “The Advantage,” Patrick Lencioni stresses the importance of clarity above all else; in fact, three of his four principles are Create Clarity, Overcommunicate Clarity and Reinforce Clarity. Leadership consultant Cy Wakeman affirms its importance by claiming, “Ambiguity is the source of all conflict.”

As a leader, you must be crystal-clear about the fundamental principles of your organization. At the core, you need to be able to answer the following three questions simply and directly:
1. Why are we here? (Purpose)
2. Where are we headed? 
    (Compelling Vision)
3. What matters most? (Values) 

Once you’ve established these basic precepts, you need clarity in communicating them. A compelling vision has little value unless it is clearly and consistently communicated to those who ultimately fulfill it. As former U.S. Navy Capt. D. Michael Abrashoff writes in “It’s Your Ship,” “No matter how fantastic your message is, if no one is receiving it, you aren’t communicating.” Lencioni goes so far as to say your role is “chief reminding officer,” repeatedly describing - through words, actions, and all forms of communication - what matters most.

Call To Action:

I encourage you to walk through these questions on your own or with the help of your coach. Start by brainstorming all your ideas on paper, then narrowing down to what you consider your core purpose, vision and values.

If you are part of a team or board, have each member independently do the same thing.

Then, bring your team together to discuss and decide. Your goal is to establish clarity around these three components that everyone can then communicate purposefully and consistently. Having led these kinds of discussions during leadership retreats, I’ve learned you may wish to bring in an objective outside facilitator for this work.

Once you’ve defined this foundation and it has permeated through your organization via your clear and consistent message, you’ll likely experience a shift in how you and your team operate, leading to myriad positive results. Clarity is power!