Clarity: How Smart Leaders Achieve Outstanding Performance


Achieve Outstanding Performance

Lean management expert Karen Martin tackles the problem so many organizations and leaders face: a lack of clarity. In her new book, Clarity First: How Smart Leaders and Organizations Achieve Outstanding Performance, she gives specific recommendations on how to improve clarity and thus your overall performance.

The book helps leaders identify the organization’s purpose, set priorities, and build problem solving capabilities while developing personal clarity to be a more effective leader.

I recently spoke with Karen about the importance of clarity and the role it plays in leadership and organizational success.


“Clarity, in contrast, feeds an organization in the same way that fertilizer feeds soil.” -Karen Martin


The Importance of Clarity

What are some of the effects of a lack of clarity?

Lack of clarity touches organizations in small, daily ways and in large ways that introduce risks to customer satisfaction, the employee experience, the balance sheet, and compliance. An example of a “small” issue might be a customer problem that remains unsolved because no one knows who owns it. Larger problems brew when various parts of an organization work at cross purposes from each other. In the end, a lack of clarity often results in runaway expenses, market share loss, high turnover, and sluggish innovation, to name a few.

Those outcomes are often caused or at least exacerbated by the incremental accumulation of ambiguity about work that happens closer to the customer. For instance, a lack of clarity about customer requirements result in products that don’t meet true customer needs. It results in poorly designed and poorly managed processes that require heroics to execute. It results in excessive rework or productivity-sapping time spent clarifying what should have been clear to begin with. In a low-clarity environment, margin and morale erode because people do work that doesn’t fit together and doesn’t move the organization toward a common performance goal.

Clarity, in contrast, feeds an organization in the same way that fertilizer feeds soil. It nourishes everything visible, as well all the quiet and invisible activities that take place out of sight to make an organization outstanding, such as decision making. When you have it, there is greater alignment, greater collaboration, higher levels of innovation, and so on. When you don’t have it, everything becomes stressed to the point that even basic decisions require more effort that they should need.

Imagine you are leading an organization filled with well-meaning and talented people in a growing industry, but you haven’t developed a culture where everyone values holding clarity front-and-center in everything they do—foundational clarity like: why you are in business, what the organization’s top priorities are, how the organization is performing both operationally and financially, and the level of performance it wants to achieve, and other important questions that drive organizational alignment and outstanding performance. Without clarity on these issues, in the near-immediate term, the relationship between the organization and its people begins to break down. Team members begin to feel unsure that their work produces customer value or contributes to organizational success. Such uncertainty leads to frustration, low morale, and eventual disengagement, creating low productivity, talent turnover, poor customer service, loss of market share, eroded margins, and so on.

To be clear, I emphasize words such as everyone and everything because clarity requires it. Leaders are in a privileged role. You may feel that you DO have clarity. But if your direct reports don’t, or if their beliefs about the priorities of the organization are different from those of the peers they work with on a daily basis, then the organization as a whole lacks clarity even if there are pockets of clarity here and there.


“Purpose is your why. Why does your organization exist? Why do you deliver the particular goods or services that you do?” -Karen Martin


Six P’s of Organizational Clarity 

Turn Your Passion into a Fulfilling and Rewarding Lifestyle

creative colors

What’s your passion?

Do you dream of turning that dream into financial rewards?

Anna Sabino is a designer, speaker, co-active career coach and author of Your Creative Career: Turn Your Passion into a Fulfilling and Financially Rewarding Lifestyle. She values efficiency and her mission is to share lessons learned and mistakes made to save fellow creative entrepreneurs’ time.

If you’re an artist or creative with a burning desire to launch something, Anna has been there. She built her business from scratch, one customer at a time, and has valuable lessons for anyone who wants to build something enduring.


“Living unconventionally comes at a cost.” – Anna Sabino


Don’t Crush Your Creativity

In the opening of your book, you talk about all that’s now available but then you say that “there are still things that can crush our creativity if we let them.” As you built your businesses, how did you overcome those things?

It’s up to us to decide what to pay attention to. Unfortunately, very often we tend to be attracted to dissatisfaction, so we notice people and things that make us feel inadequate. There are always going to be those who started earlier, have more resources and have achieved more, but we have our own creative path to follow – limiting distractions and staying on it is something that we should all strive for.

So, yes, we can crush our own creativity and flow if we choose to focus on dissatisfaction. Being aware that we’re doing it is a step closer to taking advantage of our full potential and starting to step into our greatness.


“Get comfortable with the process, it’s not important how long the process will take if the result is sustainable.” – Anna Sabino


I appreciate your take on discomfort and its importance to achievement and success. Would you share your philosophy with those who haven’t read your book?

Our entrepreneurial path is far from being straight. It has curves and roadblocks. Sometimes we have to stay in the discomfort for a very long time not knowing when or if the breakthrough will ever come. Most are scared of this insecurity and quit, sometimes right before succeeding.

When we put our heart into any project or career design, at first we are at zero with zero followers, readers and zero customers. Then our hard work makes us advance. However, the progress happens inch by inch. Those who want the miles and are disappointed by “the work input versus the result unfairness” get out of the game. They join a different game where all the pieces have been laid out for them, and they can securely step in and ride the wave of that success. It’s not their own, but to them success may be the security that they now have.

Definitions of success are very personal, but every success comes with its own territory. You’ll never like all the colors that it presents, but it’s crucial to realize what truly matters most to us and know that we’ll have to make some sacrifice to achieve our success and maintain it.


“We’ve always put talent on a pedestal but it’s actually its application that matters.” – Anna Sabino


How to Handle Criticism

How to Develop Your Study Skills

Whether you’re a student in school or an executive preparing for a big presentation, knowing the best methods of studying can be a valuable time saver.

Here are some facts about memory and learning that may help you ace your next test or jog your memory just when you need it:


Fun Fact: Chewing gum stimulates the brain and jogs memory.



Fact: 3/5 college students try studying all night, leading to lower grades.


how-to-develop-your-study-skills--work-smarter-not-harder (1)


Fact: Snack on blueberries to prevent memory loss.


Study Tip: Study in 30 min blocks and stop after 90 minutes.


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Infographic provided by StudyMedicineAbroad.

Unleash the Power of Brand-Culture Fusion for Maximum Growth


Having read more books than I can name about leadership, branding, and culture, I am surprised at how rare it is to see one that combines the power of all of them.

But that’s just what my friend Denise Lee Yohn did in her exceptional new book, FUSION: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World’s Great Companies.

As one of the world’s leading authorities on brand-building, Denise tackles one of the most important and overlooked aspects of a strong brand: company culture.

It’s the FUSION of brand and culture that creates organizational power.

After reading the book, which I also proudly endorsed, I followed up with Denise to talk about her research into brand and culture.


The Importance of Culture

Denise, you are well known for your work on branding. This book takes a different turn as it is as much, if not more, about organizational culture. Tell us about why you decided to address culture.

FUSION actually came out of my work with clients on strengthening and/or repositioning their brands.  I found that our efforts were sometimes held back from making as much of an impact as they could have because of cultural issues inside the organization. If the culture of the organization wasn’t aligned with the brand, some leaders wouldn’t want to include culture as part of brand-building, or they didn’t appreciate the need to align and integrate their brand and culture — to create brand-culture fusion — and that prevented them from realizing the full potential of their organization and their brand.


“Great brands are built from the inside out.” -Denise Lee Yohn


You say that a key leadership responsibility is the integration of culture and brand. Has this always been true? What are the best ways to accomplish this?

Brand-culture fusion has always required strong leadership from the top of the organization, but it has become more important in recent years, given the corporate culture crisis that has arisen. Leaders can no longer assume their organizations will have a healthy culture if they’re nice and decent people — it takes deliberate effort to cultivate a unique, valuable, sustainable culture.


“You must accept the challenge to lead your organization to greatness.” -Denise Lee Yohn


Drop Your Mission Statement

Leadership from the Inside Out

Grow the Whole Person to Grow the Whole Leader

I first read Leadership From the Inside Out years ago. It is one of the books that helps build a foundation of knowledge for leaders. That’s why I was excited to see that it is now out in a new version with updated chapters, new case studies and stories, and even more practical exercises to help everyone achieve their leadership potential.

Author Kevin Cashman is the Global Leader of CEO & Executive Development at Korn Ferry. He has advised thousands of senior leaders across almost every industry.

We recently talked about his updated book and his leadership views.


“While spreadsheets are the language of management information, stories are the language of leadership inspiration.” -Kevin Cashman


You’re just out with a new version of Leadership From the Inside Out, a classic must-read in leadership circles. What prompted you to update it, and what’s new?

Well, thank you for endorsing it as a “must-read.”  It has been humbling and fulfilling to witness the success of each edition. Twenty years ago, when the first edition came out, it was one of the first books to deeply connect personal growth to leadership effectiveness using timeless, enduring principles of human development. We had been seeing how this “grow the whole person to grow the whole leader” approach resonated in our practice with CEOs, CEO successors and executives, but at that time, there was little or no research on these principles—authenticity, self-awareness, courage, character, purpose—and their impact on results. We did the second edition in 2008 to share new stories and case studies, but also to share some of the mounting research from independent sources that was catching up with what we were seeing in the trenches. For this third edition, we felt compelled to share more abundant recent research, including a study that directly connects top leader self-awareness with organizational financial performance, a study on the results of purpose-driven leadership’s significant impact on financial growth, and more. The book is still framed in areas of mastery, but we’ve added Story Mastery and Coaching Mastery, both taking leaders to deeper levels of awareness to enhance their influence and multiply it. We updated stories and case studies and added and revised exercises and practices to sharpen relevance. This third edition is an even deeper, integrative growth experience.


“The Character-driven leader tends to emphasize service over self.” -Kevin Cashman


Why Character is Central to Leadership

I’m a passionate believer in character, and your book was early to focus on this aspect of leadership. Would you comment on the centrality of character?

Leading in Character is foundational, or to use your word, “central” to Personal Mastery, which is the ongoing growth of authenticity, courage, and influence that has enduring value. It is at the heart of transformative impact and servant leadership. Both Character and Coping are present in most leadership situations. However, we need to ask ourselves, “Which one is my master, and which one is my servant?”  When we are self-aware and make Character the master of our leadership and Coping the servant, we move toward better relationships with team members, customers, employees, all our stakeholders and the greater marketplace. And, we create more sustainable value. As leaders, it is essential to learn how to build our awareness of when we are being guided by Character and when we are being pushed by Coping. One CEO we worked with in our Chief Executive Institute told us that learning how to pause to make sure that values are on the table and that she and her team were leading with character has really stayed with her and been significant. She developed a systematic process of asking her team for their expert opinions, probing them to explain how they came to that opinion and whatever concerns they had. She explained that when a problem or a crisis comes along “stepping through it is grounding and everyone has the same fact base. It encourages synthesis and congruence with values.” That’s leading with Character and Authenticity.


“Purpose elevates teams to move from short-term success to long-term significance.” -Kevin Cashman


Meditation and Leadership