Why Clarity Matters in Leadership


Your responsibility is to become a leader who is a visionary. Turning smart ideas into action requires a sound strategy and transparent, data-rich decision-making coupled with resolute authenticity. It comes down to your clarity. You must command it. Bringing joy to your work helps as well.

Leadership Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. Am I confident with my current state at work? Do I even know where I want to take my future?
  2. Am I able to clearly articulate a coherent strategy, communicating why and when goals need to be accomplished?
  3. Do I get distracted by the latest fads and shiny new projects while losing focus on what matters most?
  4. Do I have any idea how I am spending my time, knowing the difference between thinking and doing?
  5. Do I fence-sit on decisions leaving others (and actions) to hang in the balance?

Why Clarity Matters

Clarity and decisiveness are inseparable from strategic ability, and so are the pillars of an organization’s longevity, not to mention your own personal leadership success. You can immediately see the consequences of failing to have clarity. Without it, there is no road map to the future.

Mary Barra, CEO and chairman of General Motors, understands this notion well. In early 2016, she wrote: “The auto industry is changing faster today than it has in 100 years. Many facets of the traditional industry are being disrupted, and we at GM believe this creates exciting new opportunities. Rather than fear disruption, we plan to lead it by developing cars that don’t crash or pollute, that reduce congestion and that keep us connected to the people, places and activities that are most important in our lives.”

She went “all in,” you might say, on two key data points. First, as consumer tastes have shifted towards sport utility vehicles and trucks, Barra let the world know that GM’s fleet of vehicles would be different. Utility vehicles were morphing into new models. Second, in an attempt to get ahead of the next consumer car revolution, she shifted GM’s vision towards electric-powered and autonomous-driven vehicles.

In essence, Barra did not want GM to become a Kodak or BlackBerry. Perhaps she didn’t want GM to become the General Motors of yesteryear. After all, it was her company that declared bankruptcy in June of 2009 after years of rudderless, unfocused strategic thinking. Barra was promoted to CEO five years later.

While looking to the future, Barra acted with sheer determination. In 2019 she shuttered five GM plants across North America, placing over 14,000 people out of work. No one said leadership was easy. Throughout her tenure—with a perpetual eye to the future—GM became leaner, lighter, sharper and positively more focused. Barra cut popular cars like the Volt, Cruze and Impala to ensure GM’s strategic plan was successful. She sold money-losing European brands such as Opel and Vauxhall because popularity contests do not secure your survival.

“When you’re doing a job, if you’re just passing through, you don’t invest,” said Barra at Duke University. Wise words. Don’t just pass through; invest in a willingness to stick to a strategy, acting with decisiveness and clarity along the way.

Ideas for Sharpening Clarity

Improving your command clarity level comes down to five key principles:

  1. Current vs. Future State Assessment
  2. Truth Test
  3. Focused Foresight
  4. Load Management
  5. Decisive Duty

Principle 1: Current vs. Future State Assessment

The first principle is to assess where you are currently heading. Be it personally, professionally or organizationally, have you fully bought into and do you remain confident about your future? As hard as it may be to crystal-ball-gaze into the next several years, if you don’t spend time contemplating what may occur, you can be guaranteed that the head-in-the-sand strategy will come back to haunt you. Just ask Kodak or any one-hit-wonder band from the 1980s.

Your current state may not be a worthy future state. Be ruthless in your assessment.

Principle 2: Truth Test

How clear are you with both the strategy and how to achieve it? Strategic, decisive leaders are also transparent. They are honest with themselves and those around them. It is worth repeating that transparency and honesty are hallmarks of credibility and reputation. It’s the “truth test” of leadership.

Don’t hide behind excuses. Refuse to curl into a ball of independence. Reject the urge to fake it until you make it. Be open with the plan, hurdles, mistakes and changes. Involve others to mitigate any of their fears. Include people to surface diverse ways to accomplish the goal. The clearer you are with the strategy—the more authentic you are with yourself and others—the smoother the execution that lies ahead.

Principle 3: Focused Foresight

How focused are you on truly completing the strategy? When leaders become distracted by the latest shiny object, it’s an unmistakable indicator of one’s lack of focus.

Take, for example, the movement towards agile. Just because an article highlights the plusses of an agile work environment does not mean your team (or organization) ought to immediately implement it. Having focused foresight means being able to take in new information while always putting things into perspective. Maybe it’s not a good idea to uproot your team, shifting everyone to agile. Change for the sake of change is evidence of a distracted, undisciplined leader.

Staying focused does not mean you refuse ever to change course. Instead, it means you do not distract yourself or the team with superfluous management fads guessing they might help your strategy. Have the focused foresight to make changes to your strategy or the means by which to achieve it only when necessary.

Principle 4: Load Management

Your strategy will fail if you are overburdened. Your decision-making prowess will be compromised if you’re always on. When the Toronto Raptors won the NBA championship in 2019, much was made of star player Kawhi Leonard’s so-called “load management.” Leonard was coming off an injury-plagued season in San Antonio prior to being traded to the Raptors, and the Toronto coaching staff wanted to ensure their prized player was ready for a deep playoff run.

The team’s strategy was to win the NBA championship. To achieve the goal, management had to carefully calculate how many minutes Leonard ought to play during the regular season, what nights he should play, and what type of recovery methods were required between games. It was decision-making at its finest. It was the command of clarity.

Leonard needed to be rested and healthy for the playoffs. In the end, the strategy and decisions paid off, and the Raptors won their first-ever championship. It’s a wonderful example of the importance of load management using clear strategic thinking and decision-making. You will struggle to be successful if you are continually dribbling a basketball. Carve out time in your calendar that permits you to process, think and recover. Your strategy and decision-making ability depend on it.

Principle 5: Decisive Duty

Fence-sitting on a decision is one of those loathed leadership traits that often makes it to the top of the least-liked management habit lists. While it is of critical importance to arm yourself with data and evidence before making a decision, waiting too long only causes pain to those you are leading. You have a “decisive duty” to make a judgment promptly. Do not sit too long on a verdict. For if you do, you can be assured people will be talking behind your back about your paralysis by analysis tendencies.


Originally published on HRPS blog.


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