Byron's Babbles

Leading With Clarity

Clarity First: How Smart Leaders and Organizations Achieve Outstanding PerformanceClarity First: How Smart Leaders and Organizations Achieve Outstanding Performance by Karen Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clarity is so important in today’s world where we need to be constantly changing, resisting the status quo, and having agility for meeting our stakeholders’ needs. This book teaches us that clarity requires a highly focused effort for a person to give clarity to others in the form of clear communication. This clarity must also be seen in the living of the vision, mission, and core values of the organization. Clarity is also explained In this book as something you receive from others when they communicate clearly with you. I have said many times that, as leaders, we can’t always give certainty, but we must always provide clarity. This great book shows us the way to providing this clarity.

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What is Clarity?

The following is an excerpt from Clarity First by Karen Martin

What Is Clarity?

By Karen Martin

The simplest definition of clarity is the quality of being easily and accurately understood. Clarity in a business context goes deeper than that, however, since it exists in multiple forms: as an organizational value, a state of being, and an outcome.

When clarity exists as a value, individuals and the organizations they work for operate in a way that places a premium on clarity and rewards the people who seek it. In that environment leaders and team members pursue clarity in their daily activities and cultivate an expectation of clarity throughout the organization. An example of clarity as a value can be seen in Alan Mulally, the former CEO of Ford, who applauded members of his team when they called attention to drops in performance or other areas of the business that needed attention instead of staying silent.

Alternatively, organizations can operate in a way that dismisses clarity and penalizes those people who seek it. At Wells Fargo, for example, employees were fired when they tried to report wrongdoing when they saw their peers opening false accounts in order to meet new account targets. Opening unauthorized accounts was reportedly condoned by bank leadership, and employees who refused to comply or actively worked to call the practice to light were penalized.

Wells Fargo is an extreme example of how clarity might be discouraged or dismissed. More commonly, organizations are benignly ambiguous, operating with a lack of clarity because it seems to be easier and safer in the short term. Remember, ambiguity is the default stage—it is what happens automatically.

Clarity, in contrast, requires work for a person to achieve it as a state of being, and it requires focused effort for a person to give clarity to others in the form of clear communication. Clarity can also be something you receive from others when they communicate clearly with you. In this sense, clarity exists inside a person’s mind, as well as in the space between that person and another with whom he or she wants to share information.

What does clarity as a state of being look like? Clarity exhibits many qualities, the most important of which are coherence, precision, and elegance. Clarity as coherence comes through information that is both purposeful and logical. Precise information is succinct. Elegant information is crisp and easy for the intended recipient of the information to grasp.

Despite the multiple forms and multiple qualities that clarity possesses, there are also things clarity is not. Clarity is a close cousin to truth, for example, but they are not one and the same. A person or an organization can issue untruthful statements that are received as true because they have the coherence, precision, and elegance of clear communication. There is even a term for this— agnotology—coined by Stanford Professor Robert Proctor as the study of the willful act to spread ignorance or doubt.

Clarity is also a close cousin to transparency, but they are not identical either. One can be clear with the information he chooses to share while withholding some of the details. Likewise, one can believe she’s being transparent without being clear. Transparency is a noble goal in many situations, but it’s not a “one size fits all” virtue. There are good reasons why the Healthcare Insurance Portability Protection Act (HIPPA) precludes healthcare providers from sharing private patient information outside the patient’s direct care team, for example, but those reasons don’t apply to doctors writing clear orders or providing clear direction to their patient’s treatment team. Generally, though, transparency serves efforts to operate with greater clarity.

Finally, clarity is different from certainty. Certainty is not always possible, but achieving clarity nearly always is. For example, companies can’t always predict when a competing product will rob them of market share, when a natural disaster will cut off access to a key supplier, or when political priorities will shift so that what they thought was tomorrow’s concern becomes today’s crisis. But organizations can improve their predictive powers and the speed with which they respond by gathering information, interpreting it, and communicating findings clearly. In this way, both clarity and uncertainty can coexist in the same environment. Similarly, certainty is a dangerous mindset in the early stages of problem solving, but it’s essential to operate from a clear problem definition.

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Karen Martin, president of the global consulting firm TKMG, Inc., is a leading authority on business performance and Lean management. Her latest book, Clarity First, is her most provocative to date and diagnoses the ubiquitous business management and leadership problem―the lack of clarity―and outlines specific actions to dramatically improve organizational performance.