Byron's Babbles

Unintended Consequences: Minimizing  the ‘Oops Factor’ in Decision Making

This guest post originally appeared on Forbes. 

Unintended Consequences: Minimizing 
the ‘Oops Factor’ in Decision Making

By Rodger Dean Duncan

“Unintended consequences” is the term for outcomes that are not the ones foreseen by a purposeful act.

When a manager consistently gives tough assignments to a worker who’s proven himself to be reliable, the go-to employee may begin to feel “penalized” by the additional load while the less reliable workers get a free ride. What was intended as a compliment and vote of confidence turns out to be an unwelcome burden.

In medicine, unintended consequences are called “side effects.” Have you listened carefully to television commercials for drugs? The list of side effects is often longer than the narrative promoting the medicine. Why would we be warned that a product purported to relieve a simple ailment may also produce paralysis, high blood pressure, thinning hair, skin rash, weight gain, blurred vision or even thoughts of suicide? Because the lawyers said so.

The old caution of “don’t operate heavy equipment while taking this medicine” seems to have morphed into “this pill will help your headache, but it also might kill you.” Caveat emptor indeed.

The fine print on an over-the-counter pain remedy I bought said it caused “irritability” in one in 10,000 users. It turns out that the first day I took one of those pills I was “irritable.” (I’m relying here on the assessment of an independent observer: my wife.) Irritable or not, I felt special. At that ratio there are fewer than 32,000 of us in the entire United States. We could rent Madison Square Garden and throw a party. The capacity of Madison Square Garden is only 18,200. But I’m confident a lot of us (at least those still taking the pain remedy) would be too grouchy to attend anyway.

I should be embarrassed to admit it, but sometimes I don’t bother reading the list of possible side effects. This behavior is risky, much the same as failing to read the terms and conditions on a contract before checking the box claiming to have read the terms and conditions. 

As Isaac Newton observed, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In business, as in the rest of life, most every action we take has the potential for consequences we didn’t anticipate. Some of those consequences may be serendipitous, like the “accidental” invention of the Post-It® Note by the guy at 3M Company who brewed up a batch of sticky-but-not-too-sticky adhesive. And some consequences are unpleasant, like a profit-based bonus system that inadvertently motivates people to trim spending on maintenance and safety issues.

Is there an absolutely foolproof way to make decisions? No. But there are some common sense guidelines that can help:

1. Decide what to decide. Many decisions can and should be delegated to others. Not only does that give them the practice, but it enables you to devote attention to those decisions that legitimately require your laser focus.
2. Be collaboratively independent. Confer with subject-matter experts, but avoid getting mired in decision-by-committee. Solicit the views of credible sources, but be prepared to own your own decision.
3. Avoid information bloat. Tom Hanks’ character in “You’ve Got Mail” said it well: “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc.” Information overload can lead to analysis paralysis, which can lead to fuzzy thinking, which can lead to faulty decisions. Keep it simple.
4. Define your desired outcome. As we learned in Alice in Wonderland, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll get you there.” To the extent possible, clarify what your desired result would “look like.” Establish a handful ofSMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound).
5. Beware getting stuck in the thick of thin things. Most of the hundreds of decisions and choices we make each day are relatively inconsequential—which dental floss to buy, or which salad dressing to order. Save your decision-making energy for the issues that really matter.
6. Don’t expect perfection. Gather the best information available. Weigh the pros and cons of your options. Then decide. You’re unlikely to have all the answers, or even all the questions. And you can’t anticipate every possible consequence. Just be ready to build your wings on the way down.

Again, most decisions come with no guarantees. But remember this uncomfortable reality: failing to make a decision is, in itself, a decision. With consequences.

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Rodger Dean Duncan is bestselling author of LeaderSHOP: Workplace, Career, and Life Advice From Today’s Top Thought Leaders. Early in his career he served as advisor to cabinet officers in two White House administrations and headed global communications at Campbell Soup Company. He has coached senior leaders in dozens of Fortune 500 companies.

 

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Doing More With Less: Avoid Fake Work

Hey This guest post originally appeared on Forbes.

Doing More With Less: Avoid Fake Work

By Rodger Dean Duncan

In a question-and-answer session following a recent speech, I was asked the following question: “How should we respond when we’re constantly asked to do more with less?”

My answer might not have been particularly comforting, but it was honest: “The challenge to do more with less is industry agnostic,” I said. “Virtually everyone everywhere is being given that challenge. And I expect that will be an ongoing mantra far into the future.”

Judging by the expression on the questioner’s face, I suspect that wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

But I wasn’t finished. The good news, I told him, is that the “do more with less” challenge presents a golden opportunity for smart, proactive people.

Most anyone can do less with more. That’s a no-brainer. Doing more with less requires strategic sorting of priorities. It’s fairly common for business people to tell me that in their organizations “everything is a priority so, therefore, nothing is a real priority.” That’s the equivalent of saying you’re too busy driving to stop and get gas.

One of the most useful ways to sort priorities is to launch a relentless search for fake work.

Fake work is work that’s not explicitly aligned with the strategies and goals of the organization.

Now let’s be clear. Most fake work is not deliberate. Most fake work is perfectly well intended. People who engage in fake work—and that’s most of us at least some of the time, and some of us most of the time—just don’t notice that what they’re doing is not producing intended outcomes.

It’s not that people doing fake work aren’t busy. They’re often very busy. But they mistake activity for results. And working hard is not a barometer, because you can work very hard and still be building a road to nowhere.

You might be doing fake work because you were told to do it. You might be doing fake work because you’re rewarded for doing it.

Fake work thrives when needed results are not clearly and thoughtfully articulated. Fake work thrives when people don’t honestly challenge the value of their activity.

Companies often set expectations, write job descriptions, and review performance in ways that actually promote fake work. This means you can follow directions, complete your assignments, and even get promotions—while spending most of your time on fake work.

Here are some warning signs that people in your organization may be building a road to nowhere:

 People are unclear about company strategy and the things that are most important to accomplish
 The connection between strategy and work is fuzzy
 Hard work is failing to produce results that measurably matter
 Meetings lack clear purpose and seem to waste time
 Despite long distribution lists on emails, it’s unclear who really needs or uses the information
 Offsite meetings often provide distraction, not value
 Some projects suck up a lot of time and other resources, then die a slow death or are killed outright for lack of interest
 People do a lot of paperwork because, well, everyone does paperwork

Of course there are lots of other signs on the road to nowhere. You could make a list of your own.

Most people don’t want to do fake work. Most people want to feel that they’re making positive contributions to meaningful accomplishments.

Remember: Fake work can be invisible because it often masquerades as real work. (Real work is critical activity that explicitly aligns with key goals and strategies.) In this age of everyone trying to do more with less, it’s more important than ever to identify fake work, eliminate as much of it as we can, and replace it with real work.

Here are five quick tips for focusing on real work:

1. Be clear about strategy. Don’t mistake mission for strategy. Mission is about purpose. Strategy is the plan to accomplish the purpose. Make sure job descriptions explicitly focus on work that matters most.
2. Use meaningful metrics. A common cause of fake work is not knowing what results are required and when they should be achieved.
3. Beware the activity trap. Fake work prospers when people are uncertain about priorities. Don’t let busyness overwhelm emphasis. Again, focus on the work that matters most. For example, if a regularly-scheduled meeting fails to produce valuable results, remove it from the calendar.
4. Treat communication as a communal task. Check and double check to ensure that your message was received and understood. Seek feedback. Listen to it. Communication about work issues needs to be simple, clear, compelling, and often repetitive.
5. Understand the people around you. Some people have a knack for handing off projects just when the work gets hard and accountability is on the line. Others invent new projects to prop up their reputation. The key is to recognize how other people’s behavior can cause fake work, hen figure out how to avoid falling into the fake work traps they’re setting. Equally important—and possibly even more difficult—is assessing whether you are the one who’s creating fake work for others.

When you’re asked to do more with less, regard the challenge as an opportunity. Your strategic approach to priorities will set you apart from the complainers and establish a positive example.

That should come in really handy at promotion time.

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Rodger Dean Duncan is bestselling author of LeaderSHOP: Workplace, Career, and Life Advice FromToday’s Top Thought Leaders. Early in his career he served as advisor to cabinet officers in two White House administrations and headed global communications at Campbell Soup Company. He has coached senior leaders in dozens of Fortune 500 companies.

A Focus on What Is Working

The following is an excerpt from Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry by Dr. Jeanie Cockell and Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair

A Focus on What Is Working

By Dr. Jeanie Cockell and Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair

In a problem-based world, it is very challenging to keep a leadership focus on what is working. We believe that focusing on what is working matters as a practice that builds appreciative resilience. Leaders are bombarded by problems every day. A focus on what is working pulls them out of that mindset of problem- and deficit-based thinking to begin to see what is right and what is good inside a team or an organization. Joan worked for a president who made this a practiced part of her leadership. She started every meeting with the question “What do we have to celebrate?” As Joan and other leaders in the room shifted their mind-set to uplift the stories worth celebrating, the entire feeling in the room shifted. The thinking shifted from “We have problems” to “Yes, we have problems needing to be solved, but we also are doing some things right.” 

This particular leader had several catastrophic events occur within the organization in a short period of time. Joan always noted that she started every conversation during those very difficult times with some version of celebrating the skills of the people handling those events.

Focusing on what is working inside a team or organization builds resilience for the individuals and the group by constantly reinforcing a drive to be excellent, not because of fear, but because their successes are celebrated. Celebrating what is working is like depositing resilience into an emotional bank account for later use. This bank account helps leaders deal with uncertainty, fear, and stress. In a crisis, a leader can tell others, verbally or through action, that their jobs, livelihood, and reputation are on the line, or they can share what is working well and uplift the drive of people to repair and rebuild.

It takes a conscious and mindful effort to focus on what is working. It takes the practice of pausing and thinking through the situation from multiple perspectives and asking powerful questions. This practice is easier in hopeful times, and we suggest that these are the times to begin the practice. If leaders practice a focus on what is working in hopeful times, they will find it much easier to do when a crisis arises. It is difficult to focus on what is working in times of despair, yet it is possible if one has practiced in times of hope. As leaders move through the element or state of despair, it is very difficult not to assign blame, seek justice, dole out retribution, or withdraw. In forgiveness, one must hold what is working close to one’s leadership heart, because a focus on what is working and forgiveness are linked together. Without leaders focusing on what is working or on what is possible, forgiveness cannot happen. 

Focusing on what is working well is a practice that trains leaders to seek out the appreciative stance and, in doing so, discover what can be built on and taken into the future.

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About the authors 

Dr. Jeanie Cockell and Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair, co-presidents of leadership consulting firm Cockell McArthur-Blair Consulting, are the co-authors of Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry. The veteran consultants’ latest book explores how leaders can use the practice of Appreciative Inquiry to weather the storms they’ll inevitably encounter and be resilient.

Forgiveness: Rising Again

The following is an excerpt from Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry by Dr. Jeanie Cockell and Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair

Forgiveness: Rising Again

By Dr. Jeanie Cockell and Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair

How do we put down the burden of nonforgiveness when carrying it seems so justified? There are so many experiences in organizations that seem unforgivable. People who are otherwise good betray others, become in one’s eyes untrustworthy or incompetent. In the larger world, there are acts that are perpetrated in hate and anger that seem undeserving of forgiveness.

When we first began the journey of exploring building resilience with appreciative inquiry, we wondered about what it is that opens the door to the possibility of returning to a state of hope, however transient that might be. We deeply understood that the practice of hope and a hopeful view offered the ability to find hope in the tiniest of places. In finding that hope and a hopeful view greater resilience could be created. We also recognized that tapping into strengths and capabilities in times of despair was a powerful sustaining force. 

As we read, thought, and worked with leaders, we began to recognize another element at play in resilience: forgiveness. It wasn’t something that just happened along the way. Leaders decided to enter into the state of forgiveness with grace and power so that they could move themselves and their organizations forward. In the appreciative resilience model, forgiveness is the most difficult element to practice, because in organizations, the thinking often is that people should be punished, removed, or banished. In forgiving self and others, a leader chooses to be in a state of acceptance of what is and begins to move forward from that place.

Forgiveness offers a place where dialogue can begin and change can take place. Practicing forgiveness is very challenging because of the sheer will it takes to enact. Forgiveness is a conscious act that requires one to examine one’s leadership and deeply forgive failures—others’ and one’s own. As one interviewee stated:

Forgiveness is one of the fundamental necessary things we need to have happen in our lives. I wish I had more. I wish forgiveness came easier to me. Forgiveness is very important. In any human system, you are going to have a problem with someone else. Somebody’s going to do something that offends you, or you misperceive and it is offensive to you; whatever it is, you see it as a slight or an attack, and if you hold on to that, you really can’t move forward in a human system together.

It is only through forgiveness that we literally have our minds changed and can see the possibilities before us. Forgiveness is a means of moving toward hope and sometimes of just living with what is unchangeable in our leadership lives. Forgiveness creates a space for leaders to let go of anger and hurt and look forward with realistic expectations.

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About the authors 

Dr. Jeanie Cockell and Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair, co-presidents of leadership consulting firm Cockell McArthur-Blair Consulting, are the co-authors of Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry. The veteran consultants’ latest book explores how leaders can use the practice of Appreciative Inquiry to weather the storms they’ll inevitably encounter and be resilient.

 

Thanksgiving Blessing

Posted in Community, Culture, Democracy, Global Leadership, Inspirational, Leadership, Thanksgiving, Visionary Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 22, 2018

I was at an event this week when a person made a comment that she was thankful to be in a country that had a holiday for giving thanks. Hers did not. This was really cool, but then, as you know I always do, I got to thinking. I began to wonder how many in our country 🇺🇸 really reflect on, really understand, or really give thanks for the things the original Thanksgiving of the Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower to form the Plymouth Plantation were giving thanks for. Or, do we reflect on and give thanks for things that George Washington put in his Thanksgiving Proclamation letter to Congress he wrote on October 3, 1789? Or, do we consider being thankful for those things which caused Lincoln to establish the fourth Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving, setting the precedent that remains to this day. Coincidentally, Lincoln’s proclamation of a national holiday was on October 3, 1863, exactly 74 years after George Washington’s Proclamation.

Back to the first Thanksgiving. To really understand the “first Thanksgiving” you must go to the journals of William Bradford, governor of the original Plymouth Plantation and a champion making sure the group on the Mayflower made the trip. In the early 1600’s the Church Of England, under King James I, was persecuting anyone who did not recognize the state’s absolute civil and spiritual authority. In other words, if you varied any from the beliefs of The Church Of England, you were in trouble. So, a group of separatists said “Screw this!” ( I’m paraphrasing here) and fled to Holland. Somehow, I imagine that if I would have been around in the early 1600’s, I would have been leading the “Screw this!” movement. Sorry, back to my story. Those forty Pilgrims, led by William Bradford, joined others 11 years later to make a group comprised of 102 individuals who set sail on the Mayflower on August 1, 1620.

Now, this part of the story I’m sure you know. It was not a pleasure cruise. And, when they finally did arrive in November, it was cold and there was no one there to greet them. The story we are always told in school is that the Native Americans helped them and then they all got together a year later and gave thanks. Now, the Native Americans did help, but that’s not the only thing the Pilgrims were giving thanks for. They had actually experimented with different forms of government and found one that didn’t work and one that did.

The Mayflower Compact, written by William Bradford, established behaviors for the group of 40 Pilgrims. An important part of it was that your religious beliefs did not matter – you could believe and worship how you saw fit. Also, in the Compact it stated that everything produced went into a common store. This is where the experiment began. They had formed a commune. This was collectivism. Nobody had any more than anybody else, nobody had any less, but that did not lead to prosperity. It never does.

In finding that this did not work, Bradford and the Pilgrims had discovered in less than a year that communism/socialism does not work. Its amazing to me, others kept trying. Anyway, Bradford then broke up the plantation into individual plots for everyone and the rest is history. Mass production ensued, the Native Americans played an important role in helping to teach these new Americans how to raise crops efficiently, and trading posts were set up and the Pilgrims were able to pay their debts to England and Holland for the trip.

Bottom-line: the Thanksgiving was for all of the above, including finding a form of government that worked. And, the Pilgrims were able to thank God in any way they saw fit, which was the reason for the trip to start with.

Of course, we also know this successful experiment led to more immigration into the New World. Then, ultimately helped shaped our United States form of government. Then Congress asked George Washington to write a proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1789. Here is a transcript of the proclamation:

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor–and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be–That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions–to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

 Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

~ G Washington

As you can see, we have a lot to be thankful for. I am proud we have this holiday to give thanks in any way we see fit, to worship in any way we see fit, and have a democratic form of government. On this day of Thanksgiving, when I read President Washington’s proclamation, I am thankful to our forefathers for having the audacity, and asking God’s will and help, in “establish[ing] constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us” (Washington, 1789). I am also thankful for the Pilgrims and William Bradford for taking the risk in order to form an experimental community that would later inform our form of government and teach us that no form of socialism works.

We truly do have a lot to be thankful for. I do pray and ask that all nations in the world take heed and practice what George Washington so eloquently put in his Thanksgiving Proclamation when he said, “to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord” (Washington, 1789). My thanksgiving wish is for all nations and each and every one of us to go out and be a Thanksgiving blessing to all people.

That’s A Little Too Far Out There!

This past weekend, at our Carolinas 3D Leadership gathering, I was recording comments during a planning discussion for a project they were working one. It struck me that at one point they went from talking transformation to the comment, “That’s a little too far out there.” I’m thinking to myself, “Uhm…if it’s going to be transformational, it probably needs to be out there.” I’ve always believed, and I we often see this; the idea that seems crazy at first turns out to be the idea that propels the organization forward or enables the desired transformation.

As I see it, passion, purpose, and capacity are the only requirements for coming up with and participation in “way out there” ideas. And, once the freedom to try out new ideas becomes ingrained in employees’ behavior, it can spread and transform the entire culture of your organization to be nimbler and more creative.

We need to create environments where we can challenge the status quo as if no one’s judging you. If being open and willing to try out new ways of working isn’t practiced and encouraged in the culture at the top of the organization, how anyone ever have the courage to voice their ideas?

The secret to truly agile and innovative organizations is this: they encourage and invite new ideas from all levels and see leaders at every level. So, next time you have that idea that might just go too far, voice that “crazy” idea regardless of your title or level; lead from where you are!

Puzzling Leadership

As you know, the first step in putting a puzzle together is to look at the picture on the box to see what the completed puzzle will look like. As a leader, we need to have a vision (picture) of the final product, and what it is you are trying to accomplish. But, what happens when the puzzle pieces are blank and there is no picture on a box?

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to put a puzzle together if you do not know what the picture looks like. It is also difficult to be a good leader if you do not know what you are trying to accomplish. But, if there is a vision and plan the leaders can create the picture and paint the picture one puzzle piece at a time.

I witnessed this yesterday at our Carolinas gathering of our Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership Program. Our theme for the day was “Setting The Leadership Table.” The main activity of the day involved telling the story. The only catch was that participants had to tell the story by planning and doing a luncheon telling the story of the North and South Carolina schools with the decorum, appetizers, salad, main course, and dessert. There was a budget provided and the participants had two hours to plan, go get supplies, prepare the food, decorate the room, and have their story ready for stakeholder guests to arrive for the luncheon. Here was the agenda for the day:

I loved the planning discussion that ensued. Here are phrases and things that were said that jumped out at me during the discussion:

Now, back to the puzzle metaphor. The participants decided to use a puzzle through line for the luncheon. Genius! Here’s the cool part; the same rules of making a puzzle applied to leadership and successful completion of the project. Here are the steps:

Step #1-Have a vision, know what you want to accomplish

Step #2-Get to know your group members. Interestingly, we talked about this in our “what did you learn” time afterward. It was discussed that the event would not have been near as successful back in January when the group came together for the first time.

Step #3-Identify leadership qualities you will need to be an effective leader

Step #4-Follow the guidelines

Step #5-Understand your importance, where you fit, and what you have to offer. This was a topic many reflected on following the luncheon.

So, here’s the deal: everyone had responsibilities and had to complete a puzzle piece and write the story for their school’s part of “Team Carolina.” I also was asked to complete a piece of the puzzle representing Noble Education Initiative’s (NEI) role in the puzzle of support for the Carolinas.

What we found was that creating the puzzle pieces for our puzzle used the same leadership principles needed for forming an effective team. When forming a group of individuals into a team, you must first figure out the following:

  • Strengths, What are the individual strengths of each one? How can the strength of one, build up the weakness of another?
  • Shape, What does each individual bring to the table as far as expertise and knowledge? Just like a puzzle piece each one will have something to share to the greater picture or vision your trying to create.
  • Edges, Which individuals define the shape and scope of your vision? There will be some that will have definitive edges that will build the foundation of your team, therefore making the picture clearer to all who view it.
  • Odd shapes, Which individuals appear, at first , not to fit into the picture? There will be those that don’t look like they are going to fit or add value to our vision or picture. Sometimes, these are the very pieces that end up truly fitting in and adding a lot of value to the team, making the overall picture clearer.

As I watched the participants put their pieces together and tell their school’s story, they did a great job of keeping the overall picture in view. So many times we lose focus on the overall picture and what do we do? We start to panic and cram pieces together. This is when we are no longer leading but are dictating and mission creep begins to take over. Or even worse, we begin to lose puzzle pieces, and we all know what’s it’s like to put a puzzle together with missing pieces.

The beautiful thing is, that when we do get all the pieces together we have created a beautiful picture, a real team (not just a bunch of individuals), and a true network of schools. How is your organization’s puzzle coming together?

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.

The Frustrating Truth Of Turf

Great Pumpkin 🎃 Carving By Steve Treffiletti

I learned a new term this week: “Lawnmower Parents”. One of our activities during our North Carolina 3D Leadership was to carve pumpkins using the prompt of: “Truths we Are Frustrated With”. This turned into a great and meaningful activity in all our states with some really deep conversations. I love to watch the carvings develop and am always trying to guess what is being represented. I had to laugh when I saw Coach Steve Treffiletti from Langtree Charter Academy carving a lawnmower. If I would have carved a pumpkin using our prompt, I would have carved a lawnmower too. I have made the picture of his pumpkin the featured picture of this post. While we both would have carved pictures of mowers, our stories were different. I am going to write about both in this post.

Lawnmower Parents

Coach Treffiletti’s truth he was frustrated with, was that of a new group of parents categorized as “lawnmower parents”. I guess I have been under a rock because I had not heard this term yet. For those that are like me and aren’t familiar with theses parents, they are pushing aside “helicopter parents” to intervene or, mow down, any person or obstacle that stands in the way of any inconvenience, problem or discomfort their child might encounter. Coach Treffiletti’s point was that our students won’t be prepared for life or to be great citizens if every hurdle is removed for them.

Lawnmower parents go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure. Make no mistake, this does not mean parents should not keep their children safe, help, and encourage them. But, lawnmower parents are not teaching kids how to deal with discomfort. Quite the contrary, they are preventing kids from learning to problem-solve.

I’ve never met a parent who sets out to be a bad parent or whose heart wasn’t in the right place. We all want what was is best for our kids. But we have to watch being too focused on reducing our child’s discomfort in the short-term, rather than focusing on our child’s needs in the long-term Sometimes we must just back off and let our children gain experience dealing with adversity.

Turf

My truth I am frustrated with is that of “turf”. Let me explain. As an education policy-maker it is so frustrating when it becomes challenging, and many times nearly impossible, to innovate and make improvements because the different turf is being protected by the individuals, groups, organizations, or governmental agencies involved. All have a stake, but everyone is afraid of losing turf. When we don’t mow down the turf, we end up with the status quo. I actually discuss this so much in meetings that a person, who I respect a great deal, gave me a toy lawnmower in honor of my constant desire to “mow down the turf.”

Beth Macy discussed the issue of “turf” in her great book, Dopesick. Macy argued that it is hard to get agencies to work together to solve an issue because of turf. She used the example of most drug offenders being sent to federal prison instead of being dealt with at the local or state level because it would leave money at the local and state level. The problem is we begin to view problems to rigidly based on where our funding comes from. We need to figure out ways to eliminate turf’s devastating effect on innovation and changing the status quo.

What’s your truth that frustrates you?

Cultivating Your Team For Maximum Growth & Blooms

Consideration of the flower bed and the flower farmer is fertile ground that allows a leader to reflect upon her or his own performance. It gives insight into the needs of the flower bed (the people) and the outlook and perspectives needed by the person involved in floriculture (the leader). As leaders we need to develop ourselves as a leader and as a servant so that, together with our people, we can flourish and achieve our full potential in the purpose of our organization.

I was reminded of this flower bed analogy this week when working with our South Carolina 3D Leadership cohort. I already blogged about our project of carving pumpkins to tell the story of “Truths We Are Frustrated With.” Click here to read my original post about this project from our Indiana cohort entitled, “The Messiness Of The Truths We Are Frustrated With.”

Ms. Russell’s Pumpkin 🎃 Carving

Ms. Linda Russell, Kindergarten teacher at Mevers School Of Excellence in Goose Creek, South Carolina, carved her pumpkin in the shape of an irregular flower with her as the stem. Her point was that everyone, just like the petals of a flower, develop at different rates, different sizes, in different ways, and has different needs. As Ms. Russell works as Kindergarten lead, this is a truth she has to remember. She has to work hard to not be frustrated by this, but embrace it. As I always say, we work really hard at differentiating for our students, but then don’t do a good job of differentiating for the different professional growth needs of our team members.We need to design professional growth opportunities that embrace the fact that we all develop like flowers. Too often, we fail to be good gardeners (leaders) in providing the choice, agency, and nurturing our team members deserve. How about about you? Are you doing everything you can to enhance the growth of your blooming team members?