01 December 2015

Two Questions for Leadership

"Although our intellect longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating."

--Carl von Clausewitz

With the year winding down, and a fresh calendar waiting to takes its place, this might be a good time to think about improving your internal communication as preparation for a promising 2016.  

Leadership tends to be clearer among itself than with employees when it comes to communicating priorities and goals, and how everyone can work together to achieve those ends. 

Defining purpose (why this business?) should be at the heart of what a CEO wants corporate constituencies to know.  Strategy formulation is superficial and imitative without a deeper understanding as to why the organization exists.

So what's the problem?

Most people are not mind readers and guessing what a leader or supervisor is thinking is a frustrating experience.  What can be done to fill workplace vacuums? 

The power of focus

Here are two straightforward questions to consider asking when attempting to be clear in a cluttered world:

Question No. 1:  What is it you're trying to accomplish?

That may sound like a simple question but it's not easy to answer. 

A leader knows (or should know) what's in their head but often can't get it out in a way that makes sense to those charged with implementation.  It takes lots of practice to be plain spoken, using candid feedback to improve our thoughts and close information loops.   

If communicating purpose, context, process, and results (a narrative, if you will) are that important to the future of the enterprise, then spending time honing an understandable message is worth the effort.

Without sounding condescending, a leader has a duty to explain how the total picture comes together.  What needs doing?  By when?  By whom?  What will be the sources of funding? 

Painting that picture is difficult which is why so few accomplish what they set out to do through others.

Question No. 2: What are you doing to get in your own way?

Instead of rounding up the usual suspects such as attitudes, culture, systems, policies, and procedures, have you ever thought about taking, when appropriate, some responsibility for poor execution?   

All of us are susceptible to "blind spots" such as failing to show appreciation, not sharing credit, and inappropriate emotional responses.  These are patterns of behavior that can get in the way and undermine trust in working relationships.  

Writing about this topic, the late David Viscott, M.D., an American psychiatrist, author, and businessman, said:  "You must sometimes endure a life of pain before you are ready to admit what everyone else can plainly see."  

Those who sign off on hiring decisions, plans and budgets, can improve those processes by asking the right questions, at the right time, of the right people.  Without being negative, probing from a C-suite perspective is the first line of defense in making sure there's congruency among business units toward a common goal. 

Failing to show up when it's your turn to engage in the process is one example of getting in your own way.

Are you sometimes the problem? 

It may be hard to get a straight answer to that question from those who serve at your pleasure. Leaders who are self aware and experienced are the ones most likely to give permission for subordinates to critique the boss's ideas or offer their own. 

Making candid conversations a safe habit improves everyone's performance which in turn becomes a positive influence on outcomes.

One more thing

Too much clarity can be as big a problem as too little.  Being highly prescriptive with direct reports is a way to lessen individual initiative, creativity, and responsibility. 

Someone has to pay attention to details.  However, micromanaging is a prime example of how to deflate passion. Is there anything less motivating than trying to carry out someone else's plan with most of the details filled in?

How to manage the creative tension between clarity and uncertainty?  Add that to your wish list for the holidays. 


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