Have you every driven while blindfolded? I hope the answer is no! But I bring up the question as a way to illustrate why creating clarity as a leader is so critical.
Now, back to the analogy. Let’s say that you happen to be driving through the mountains on an adventurous road trip. You’re headed someplace you’ve never been before, so you’re keeping your eyes on the road while simultaneously checking for any signs that indicate that you’re headed in the right direction.
It’s a gorgeous day and you’re making good time toward your destination. But all of a sudden, just as you crest a mountaintop, you enter into a thick, soupy raincloud. You can just picture it, right? Before the cloud, you could look far ahead and plan your next few turns. But now, you’re limited to seeing just a few feet in front of your car. You’re forced to slow way down to compensate. You’re also a bit jumpy; you’re anxious. You start to over-correct to each change in the road as well as every sign you come across wondering all the while if you somehow missed a critical turn along the way. It’s nerve-wracking enough that you just might pull over and hope the cloud simply goes away.
Put another way, when you lack clarity behind the wheel, you’re literally going nowhere fast – which creates a lot of wasted time and energy as a result.
Similarly, if you as a leader aren’t creating clarity for your team in a way that gets everyone aligned and moving toward the same direction and in the same way, you might be sending them out driving into the clouds.
Clarity begins by setting a vision for the organization – a destination that everyone can align themselves with. With clarity around the destination, you can then drill down into developing a more actionable strategy about who is going to do what, when, and how – a map, if you will, of how you will reach your shared destination.
But when your team doesn’t have clarity about the shared destination, as well as the intended route to reach it, they can find themselves overreacting to any kind of distraction that might pop up along the way or locking in on tasks or ventures that don’t help push the organization toward its goals.
Clarity in your business can actually become what the military calls a “force multiplier,” meaning that you can get more done than your competitor can with the same or even fewer resources. Just like if an army can take the high ground on the battlefield, thus making their soldiers more effective (it’s easier to shoot down than up), the more clarity about your vision and mission your team has, the more effective they’ll be serving your customers.
While we remain a work in progress, we have work hard at ITX to achieve clarity around our shared vision and it’s become a competitive advantage for us as a result. The more clear we are with our customers about what we are going to do – and what we aren’t – through our specification, we can help eliminate what we call “cloudy” issues, which is anything that results from a lack of clarity and cause us to slow down and create waste. When we can work toward clearing away the clouds on projects, where everyone’s expectations are met, and everybody wins.
The more clarity you have, the less waste you’ll experience – which allows you to compete more effectively in the market. You’ll be able to judge how effective certain tasks or actions are based on whether they get you faster to your destination. Clarity also helps to reduce anxiety – which is another advantage not just with your employees but also with your customers. When customers feel anxiety, they can become hyper-focused on removing the cause of the anxiety, and not necessarily on achieving the stated goal, creating extra work. The less anxious your customers are in working with you, the more productive and profitable those relationships will be.
Let’s say you are on a business trip to New York City. And, after one of your meetings runs a bit long, you realize you need to get to the airport ASAP so that you won’t miss your flight home. So you dash out to the nearest curb to hail a cab. “Take me to the airport!” you tell your cabbie as you try and catch your breath.
But, there are three airports in the NYC area: LaGuardia, JFK and Newark. If you and your cabbie don’t discuss which airport you need to go to before he starts driving, you’re likely to end up at the wrong destination, thus missing your flight and creating a lot of waste and even moreanxiety.
Similarly, even if you let your cabbie know which airport you’re heading to, but you fail to let him know you have a time constraint, you might be anxious about the route he takes – through the tunnel or over the bridge? – all the while wondering if he knows where he’s going and whether he’ll get you to the airport in time to catch your flight.
Now, if your cabbie immediately asks you which airport you’re headed to, clarifies your answer, and then asks for your approval on the route he plans to take to get there, he immediately just created value for you because he created a sense of clarity.
The point is that the more you and your cabbie are in alignment about where you’re headed and how you plan to get there, the less anxious you’ll be. As a result, you’ll be more satisfied with your cabbie’s driving and perhaps more willing to hand over a bigger tip.
I’ve actually found that most people fall into one of two categories: they are either consumers of clarity, meaning they passively wait until someone else establishes it; or producers of clarity, as exemplified by the communicative cabbie.
Unfortunately, we run into consumers of clarity all the time: people who like to obfuscate their desires as a way to play the blame game later on. By not being clear about what they want, these consumers of clarity tend to say things like, “You should have known what I wanted.” But is that really a workable idea?
But when you get two parties who are both creators of clarity, well then you have a thing of beauty – a strong foundation for a workable and profitable relationship for everyone involved.
That’s the power of clarity and why it can be a competitive advantage for just about any kind of business.
Which begs the question, which camp do you fall into – do you strive to create clarity on an everyday basis or do you consume it? If we can all commit to the former, the better off we’ll all be.
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