Clarity Matters Above All Else

Effective leaders don’t have to passionate. They don’t have to charming. They don’t have to be brilliant. They don’t have to be great speakers. What they must be is clear. Above all else, they must never forget the truth that of all the human universals–our need for security, for community, for clarity, for authority, and for respect–our need for clarity, when met, is the most likely to engender in us confidence, persistence, resilience, and creativity. Show us clearly whom we should seek to serve, show us where our core strength lies, show us which score we should focus on and which actions must be taken today, and we will reward you by working our hearts out to make our better future come true.

That’s Marcus Buckingham, via Chris’s summary. There are so many good nuggets. Here are just a few more:

  • To combat arrogance and carelessness, don’t tear down the person. Instead, build up the size of the challenge. Emphasize their scope, their complexity, their "no one has ever pulled this off before" quality. The state of mind you should try to create is a fully realistic assessment of the difficulty of the challenge and an unrealistically optimistic belief in his ability to overcome it.
  • The one thing all great manager know about great managing is this: "Discover what is unique about each person and capitalize on it."
  • The most effective way to turn fear into confidence is to be clear; to define the future in such vivid terms, through your actions, words, images, pictures, heroes, and scores that we can all see where you, and thus we, are headed. Adjustments along the way must be communicated with great vividness; clarity is the antidote to anxiety and therefore clarity is the preoccupation of the effective leader.
  • "It is always showtime." However trivial or boring a transaction might be, you are still making an impression.
  • The best way to succeed is through a disciplined process of stress and recovery. Impose on your life a series of routines that allow you to stress yourself, then recover, stress, then recover, and you will find that, over time, your capacity, your resilience, and your energy will all expand.

He also excerpts Buckingham’s five universal human fears and needs that are relevant to leadership:

1) Fear of death (our own and our family’s) / The need for security
2) Fear of the outsider / The need for community.  We are herd animals, and we organize ourselves to keep the herd strong.
3) Fear of the future / The need for clarity. In every society, we give prestige to those who claim to be able to predict the future.
4) Fear of chaos / The need for authority. Every society has devised its own creation myth in which the world was created out of chaos. The need to classify things is universal. The reason creating democracy from autocracy is hard is that we dislike chaos and thus like strong leaders.
5) Fear of insignificance / The need for respect.

3 comments on “Clarity Matters Above All Else
  • Most of the nuggets here ring true in my case currently where I am working on inspiring my friends to voluntarily work as a group in organizing a 5K race in Bangalore. I noticed very early that the big problem is not with generating interest or enthusiasm, but in clarifying the details of the event and the long-term objectives of the firm.

    On one of my friends going in a tangential direction, I was able to rein him (and the direction of the project) in by expanding and clarifying on the size of the challenge. Glad to see that qualifies me as an able and effective leader 🙂

    On a personal note, Ben : Why so many grammatical errors on this post? Writing a post at 6:00 AM makes for poor quality?!!!!!

    Effective leaders don’t have to [be] passionate. They don’t have to [be] charming.

    The one thing all great manager[s] know about great managing is this:

  • Powerful post. Buckingham exemplifies his message in the clarity of his writing, as do you two, Chris and Ben in passing it along.

    Since we are wired to react more rapidly and intensely to what we fear than towards what we desire, to understand those five universally-felt fears. Then one can more clearly see the world from the other person’s perspective.

    As we then demonstrate clarity in what we seek from each other that uses our best talents, we are more likely to bring out the best sides in each other.

    Rather than spiraling down into conflict and loss we can spiral up into becoming happier and higher-performing together.

    In a fast-moving world that often means going slow to go fast so we can get clear on a goal, find the unique talent in the other person and speak specifically to the sweet spot of mutual benefit. Speaking personally, this is does not come naturally, yet it, too, does get easier with a “disciplined process.”

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