Let's Be Clear
It has been said that people want integrity but they follow clarity. Leaders should be able to effectively communicate with individuals, and with groups. Communicating well is more than it might seem. It's one thing to say something or to write something, and another thing to have people actually know precisely what you mean. A good leader must also be an effective communicator. A good leader must say things to people that really matter, and say them with great clarity, making for complete understanding.There is nothing more likely to create chaos in an organization or relationships than confusion and unclear communication. So how do we go about creating clarity? (Clarity itself means free from obscurity, and easy to understand). How can you learn to say what you mean and feel good about it, while leaving the other person with their confidence and security in place? It takes practice and diligence, but the results are worth it.When you want to deliver negative or non-positive feedback, consider your goal. What do you hope to accomplish as an outcome?Do you want the person to be more aware? Do you hope they will change their behavior? Many times we just want the other person to know something – we don’t have an expectation for what could happen once they know. If you have an outcome in mind, communicate with the results desired in mind. “I’m hoping if I share some feedback you might be willing to readjust your schedule.”Ask permission and make sure it is the right time to offer feedback.You don’t always know what is going on with another person, and the timing of communication is clearly significant. Make sure they are open to hearing it. Prepare them -“I would like to share some thoughts; is now a good time or would there be a better time for you?”Be objective and stick to facts in your approach.Try to refrain from making sweeping statements. This is why parents are taught not to say “bad boy” or “good boy”; talk about a specific instance, not about a person’s entire character. Instead, say “Missing your deadline made completing the project extremely challenging for all of the team.”Acknowledge your own thoughts and feelings – it’s perfectly fine to have a reaction and to share it.“Frankly, it was stressful for me because everyone was tense and we came very close to losing a client.” Many people even realize how their behavior impacts someone else. Sometimes if you can point out the ripples and the consequences to everyone, the person will adjust their behavior next time.Keep in mind, you are not responsible for how another person reacts.The fact that you don’;t want to hurt sometime’s feelings or you want to avoid a difficult conversation doesn’t make the situation less real or legitimate. A good leader makes sure his motives are clear, and is responsible in the way he delivers. But he doesn’t let the possibility of anger or hurt feelings thwart the responsibility to communicate.Consider the other person’s viewpoint.Seek to understand. “I am curious to understand why you felt it was OK to move ahead with a side project when you were unable to meet the deadline on the main assignment.” Sometimes inquiring will get your further than making statements. Try to remember that most people haven’t learned well how to be open and honest in a non-hurtful, productive manner. Do your best to practice saying what you mean, and meaning what you say. It’s possible that others will learn from you.People savvy, compassionate leaders are often worried about sounding too controlling, so they soften what they say. It can muddy the waters, create confusion, and make everyone wonder if they actually know what they are talking about. Try to eliminate these phrases from your vocabulary.“I’m Not Sure, But . .”Just to be clear, it’s okay not to be sure about something. After all, false confidence is often just as bad as open ignorance. But saying “I’m not sure” when you really do have a decent grasp on the matter only undermines you. Similar qualifiers to avoid include “only a thought,” “just my opinion,” “hard to say,” and “this might be a silly question.” These qualifiers are generally intended to make you look humble but they don’t help you make a compelling case. Show yourself as someone who can navigate with well-founded confidence.“Sort Of” Or “Kind Of”When someone says, “I sort of think” or “I kind of suspect,” it’s clear they either don’t want to come out and speak the truth and commit, or else don’t really know their own mind. Does it mean we move forward or we adjust? Statements like these create a lack of clarity for team members, and they also make team leaders who use them sound less confident and transparent than they should.“Maybe,” “Possibly,” And “Potentially”“Maybe,” “possibly,” “probably,” “basically,” “largely,” and “hopefully” are all words that sound like indecision. If a boss says to a staff member, “Hopefully you’ll be okay with this change,” his team member can legitimately question if it is ok to challenge it. Saying, “The project is largely complete” doesn’t communicate when it will be done, and how big of a task it will be to finish. The tech guy says, “It’s basically a software problem, but possibly I can fix it myself.” None of these phrases instill much confidence that the speaker has a handle on the situation.If you want to sound like a capable speaker who knows what you’re talking about, don’t water down your message. Avoid these four patterns and expressions. They don’t make you sound more approachable–they just make you sound uncertain, even when you aren’t.Specifically for your organization, getting clarity to communicate for the future, Mr. Marcus Buckingham suggests you focus on four powerful and defining questions: (1) Who do we serve?, (2) What is our core strength?, (3) What is our core score? and, finally, (4) What actions can we take today? He elaborates:Question 1: Who do we serve?When answering this question, you must tell your team clearly and vividly, who their main audience is. Tell them who they should empathize with most closely. Tell them who will be judging their success. When you do this with clarity, you give your people confidence – confidence in their judgment and confidence in their decisions. It frees them to better serve those you have identified are the one audience whom they serve.Question 2: What is our core strength?Thirty years ago, Peter Drucker wrote, “the most effective organizations get their strengths together and make their weaknesses irrelevant”. No statement could be truer today. Focusing on weaknesses brings down your team. Look at your core strength and go after the business and situations that play to this strength. Understanding and clearly communicating your core strength allows people to follow the vision you create.Simply put, this means finding a way to measure success. This is the most important contribution you can give your organization or team. Once defined, your people know when they are achieving their objectives, when to work harder or faster, and when they are winning! Defining that measure is hard, but essential. If you want people to follow you and take initiative, tell them what the core score is, so they know what to use to measure their progress.Question 3: What actions can we take today?Action is unambiguous. Actions are clear and they speak volumes. Actions let people know exactly what to do. As a leader, there are many actions that you can take each day. The question to ask is “what actions can I take today that will have the most meaningful impact on my people and those we serve, and will move us closer to achieving our goals?” Remember, choose your actions carefully, and choose just a few. Guided by the clarity of your actions, your team can move into the future easily and without the fear of the unknown.In the military, the general leading the charge must be clear or his people die. In sports, the coach, quarterback or captain must be clear or the team loses. The same can be said in your businesses. If, as a leader, you are not clear, then the company runs the risk of losing – losing clients, market share or potentially dying and closing your doors. Look at all the messages you are sending – verbally, by e-mail, and in meetings – are they clear? Because as leaders, it’s okay to be wrong, but it isn’t okay to be unclear; the risks are too high – what you must be is clear.