Byron's Babbles

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.

 

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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.

School Is For The Student

I am reading an incredible book right now by Roger Daltrey, the frontman of The Who. As you know, I love rock music and am so intrigued by those who have artistic talent and took the risk to make it big. And, make it big The Who did…The Who is arguably one of the most influential formative influences during the development of rock and roll 🎸. I’m only half way through the book and now I want to meet Roger Daltrey. Oh…the places he has been and the things he has done!

“If anyone had ever once sat me down and explained that school was for me, not the teachers or the system, and there were reasons why I should stick at it, it would have been totally different. But no one ever did.” ~ Roger Daltrey, frontman for The Who in his book Thanks A Lot Mr. Kibblewhite: My Story/Roger Daltrey.

This post is about a statement in the book and the reason for the title. Mr. Kibblewhite was Roger Daltrey’s Principal who kicked him out of school. So…he’s thanking him? That really made me think. But then Daltrey wrote this statement: “If anyone had ever once sat me down and explained that school was for me, not the teachers or the system, and there were reasons why I should stick at it, it would have been totally different. But no one ever did” (Daltrey, 2018, p. 21). I haven’t been able to get this statement out of my mind ever sense.

Did you catch what he said? That someone should have explained that school was for HIM, not the teachers or the system. Part of the reason no one ever sat him down and told him this, is because we forget it, or never believed it to start with. School exists for the students. Period. Not for the teachers or the system.

Schools are such complex and contested institutions in my country 🇺🇸 and globally. While every member of our society is promised a good education, there are ongoing inequalities that are fueled by race, class, and gender. Somehow, I believe education failed Roger Daltrey. Now I get that he did things that caused the expulsion – he divulged those in the book. But, again, I go back to the statement I can’t get out of my mind, “If anyone had ever once sat me down and explained that school was for me, not the teachers or the system, and there were reasons why I should stick at it, it would have been totally different. But no one ever did.” Daltrey needed to know the “why” and no one ever took the time to tell him.

Now you can argue that had he not been kicked out of school that any number of the 100 different paths that Daltrey would have taken wouldn’t have led to The Who. You are probably right, but how many other students are lost that don’t have the grit of a Roger Daltrey? For some, then, schools are seen as a means for learning and mobility; for others they are “sorting machines” that maintain social inequality. I believe we need to make sure that schools are student centered and not school system centered.

I have said it many times that many of the things we have done around holding schools accountable have forced us [schools] to make decisions in order to make the school look good without any regard to what the students need. We have it backward. If our students are successful and achieving the outcomes necessary for postsecondary success, then certainly, the school has done its job. It’s really about considering questions of relevant academic content, methods of teaching, ways of learning, and overall educational aims.

Another statement Daltrey made in the book was, “There was the maths teacher who hated me because I hated maths. I just couldn’t get it to go into my brain. I don’t know why they don’t work out which kids are good at maths and let them get on with it and which ones aren’t and give them a break. We still haven’t worked that one out today. It’s mad.” (Daltrey, 2018, p. 15). What he is really saying is why didn’t anyone ever make math real for him? Why was school work not made to be like real work. Daltrey went on to say, “Obviously it helps in life if you can add up a few numbers but I could do that. How else do you think I managed to work out how much we were being ripped off when The Who started making proper money in the 1970s?” (p. 15). Think about if math would have been taught in the context of managing a band. We must make education relevant for our students. Otherwise, we will lose them.

Our schools are effective only when we refocus on meeting the individual needs of students rather than the needs of the education system or the broader society. We must have our students ready to be a part of and function in a global economy and society. Remember, school is for the student.

Reference

Daltrey, R., 2018. Thanks a lot Mr. Kibblewhite: my story / Roger Daltrey. New York, NY. Henry Holt and Company.

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?

“Big Boy” Leadership

This week I went to Nashville, Tennessee with a group of great colleagues from Noble Education Initiative to put on a day of professional development for Trevecca Nazarene University. The day was amazing, and there was some great learning that went on. Really it comes down to being student centric – whether that student is a college pre-service teacher or a pk-k-12 student in our schools. We must deliver our best each and every day.

Our professional development covered the topics of “A Day In The Life Of Our Indy Schools,” Social Emotional Learning, Restorative Justice, and our Eight Step Process for Continuous Academic Improvement. Plus, we started the day with Mr.& Mrs. Potato Heads and participants making their Potato Heads answering the question: what does education look like on you? At the end of the day, participants had the opportunity to reflect and change their potato head answering the statement: now I look like this. Here is the agenda we used for the day:

On the way down to Nashville we saw signs for Frisch’s Big Boy. Since all six of us seemed to have some affinity or fond memories of going to Frisch’s Big Boy, it was decided that is where we would eat on the way home. Needless to say, I was excited because there is just no better hamburger than the Super Big Boy.

On the way home it became quite fun searching for our Big Boy location. Of course, I became “Big Boy” because I am a “Big Boy.” And…I couldn’t wait to get my picture taken with the iconic Frisch’s Big Boy. In fact, the group was so kind to buy me one of the “Big Boy” banks. It is now a treasured item on my desk.

Then I got to thinking about the principles and core values that guided Dave Frisch, the founder of Frisch’s Big Boy restaurants. He founded on the idea of great food, a great work environment that was fun for employees, and a place of integrity. Who could argue with this?

As I did a little Big Boy studying. I found that Frisch’s Restaurants, Inc. use the value of being “Guest Centric.” Being in the field of education this was interesting to me because we use the term “Student Centered” a lot. I like the “guest centric” terminology better, however, because it refers to internal and external guests. The internal guests are employees. Frisch’s wants to provide its best service and support to its employees. I’ve always said in education we need put teachers first so we can put students first. I love that Frisch’s says, “We will be our best every time by delivering our best and being guest centric to our internal and external customers.” I believe this speaks to empowerment, engagement, and professional growth and development of staff, regardless of the industry we are in.

Frisch’s also has a core value of treating everyone as family (employees and customers), too. Their restaurants have a very diverse workforce and customer base. Frisch’s supports each team member through teamwork, coaching and development, fair treatment, and mutual respect.

Do you practice “Big Boy” leadership?

Are You There?

This post is dedicated to the ones who are always there for others. Always there for us. I was reminded of how important those individuals are three times yesterday, in three different instances, and by three different people. These are the ones that are more than just a listener. They are warmth, compassion, insight, strength, aspiration. Sometimes just the person who can help you turn a PDF file into a Word file (I know, a stupid example, right? But a real example, nonetheless). They are that solid boulder when you need help with something. You know, that person that when you have something come up, you just know will come through in a pinch to help.

Think about what the world would be like if we were all striving to be this way. I’ve said in blog posts and many other times before that Jesus is the best leadership example there is, and he said, “And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” Now, if that’s not being there when you need something, I don’t know what is.

This post is just meant to remind us how important being there for others is. Reflect on how important that handful of individuals is to you, that you know you could pick up the phone right now, ask for help, and they would drop everything for you. Are you that same person when they call you?

Now I realize that we can’t always just drop everything every time to help others, but do think about it – you know who you could call right now and who you couldn’t. Maybe, if we all worked just a little harder at leading like Jesus, and being there till the end of time, the world really would be a better place.

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.

View all my reviews

Teacher Leadership

IMG_3896This week I had the chance to do a couple of sessions on Teacher Leadership at the Impact CSUSA 2020 Conference that Noble Education Initiative put on. In the session we discussed creating a shared leadership model and engagement pipeline. I even did a plate spinning show to represent how hard it is to spin all the plates we need to as leaders. If we empower teacher leaders, we can spread out the load and keep all the plates spinning. We must create a supportive community where everyone helps to spin the plates. By the way, I can only keep three going at once, but brought others up and we were able to have all six plates that I have going at once. Another one of my metaphors!

IMG_3891First, let’s start by answering the question, “What is teacher leadership?”Here’s the definition I have always liked: “Teacher leadership is the process by which teachers, individually or collectively; influence their colleagues, principals, and other members of the school community to improve teaching and learning practices with the aim of increased student learning and achievement.” (York-Barr & Duke, 2004, p. 287) During the workshop, participants came up with a list of teacher leadership roles. Here is there list:IMG_3884I also laid out a seven step process for growing teacher leaders:

  1. Realize teacher leadership is essential
  2. Recognize teacher leadership as a teachable skill
  3. Recruit teachers to become teacher leaders
  4. Build leadership capabilities among teachers
  5. Nurture leadership qualities in teachers
  6. Empower teacher leaders
  7. Provide ongoing professional growth opportunities for teacher leaders

Of course it wouldn’t be a session by me without there being model making, innovation, creativity, and creations. First, I asked the question, “Why is building a great teacher leadership pipeline more like chess than checkers?” We had a great discussion in both sessions about this. We discussed how in checkers there are very limited moves and you can’t the checkers cannot be promoted until they reach the other side of the board – we believe everyone should lead from where they are. We discussed how chess is about strategy and a longer term overall play. I’m sure you get the idea.

I broke the participants into groups of four or five, gave them a chess board, pipe cleaners of all sizes, colors, and even with glitter, glue sticks, masking tape, little eyes, fuzzy balls of all sizes, and straws. I then told them that there objective was to replace the traditional chess pieces with ones that represented the ideal chess game for building an amazing pipeline of teacher leaders. I’ve got to tell you, it was amazing to watch them. Even more amazing were the descriptions of the chess pieces and and the discussion. Following are pictures of some of the games created:IMG_3892

IMG_3894

IMG_3895

Finally, we created a list of attributes for effectively developing teacher leaders. Here’s our list:

  • Results-driven
  • Standards-based
  • Job-embedded
  • Differentiated
  • Linked to learning needs (student and teacher)
  • Collaborative in nature
  • Sustained over time
  • Discipline-focused/Content rich
  • Reflective
  • Evaluated

How are you doing at developing your teacher leaders?

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.