Clarity: How Smart Leaders Achieve Outstanding Performance

clarity

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 

Unleash the Power of Brand-Culture Fusion for Maximum Growth

fusion

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

Servant Leadership in Action

Servant Leadership

What Is Servant Leadership?

By Ken Blanchard

What do you think of when you hear the term servant leadership? Do you picture a workplace culture where managers and direct reports work side by side, set goals, collaborate on projects, solve problems and celebrate victories together? Or do you picture a chaotic scene from a movie where the inmates are running the prison?

If you don’t understand servant leadership, it may be because you think people can’t lead and serve at the same time. But they can, if they recognize that there are two kinds of leadership involved in servant leadership: strategic and operational.

Strategic leadership has to do with vision and direction. It’s the leadership aspect of servant leadership. Leadership is about going somewhere. If you and your people don’t know where you are going, your leadership doesn’t matter. A compelling vision ensures everyone is going in the same direction. Once the organization has a compelling vision, they can set goals and define strategic initiatives that help people know what to focus on right now. The traditional hierarchical pyramid is effective for this part of servant leadership because, while the leader should involve experienced people in helping to shape direction, the ultimate responsibility remains with the leader and cannot be delegated to others.

 

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” –Theodore Hesburgh

 

As soon as people are clear on where they are going, the hierarchical pyramid is philosophically turned upside-down. Now the leader’s role shifts to a service mindset for operational leadership, which has to do with implementation. The question now is: How do we live according to the vision and accomplish the establish goals? Implementation is the servant aspect of servant leadership. It includes policies, systems, and leader behaviors that flow from senior management to frontline employees—and make it possible for people in the organization to live according to the vision and values and accomplish short-term goals and initiatives.

 

Create a Servant Leadership Culture

How to Create a Team of Leaders by Shifting Inward

inpowered

Step Back

It may be counterintuitive, but according to Barry Kaplan and Jeff Manchester — who have decades of experience as entrepreneurs and advisers to hundreds of companies — the the best way to lead is to step back.  The more that you as a leader open your heart, reveal your fears and show your authentic self, the deeper the connections among your team members will be, and the more the team will achieve.

Partners at Shift180, Barry and Jeff present their unique approach to maximizing performance in their new book, The Power of Vulnerability: How to Create a Team of Leaders by Shifting Inward.  I recently spoke with them after reading the book, to talk about their views on leadership culture and vulnerability.

 

Understand the Power of Vulnerability

Why is vulnerability misunderstood?

We are taught and then hard-wired to believe that showing vulnerability is a weakness. The fear, of course, is that if we demonstrate vulnerability, others will be able to take advantage of us.  This, however, is far from the truth.  The reality is that, by sharing our vulnerability, we lay the groundwork for truly connecting with others – which is incredibly powerful.  We need to relearn that vulnerability is gateway to authenticity, connection and ultimately power.

 

When is it wrong to be vulnerable and can you be too vulnerable?

Despite the power vulnerability can bring, if you’re not in a safe environment where you can leverage its power, exhibiting vulnerability may be a mistake. Safety is a necessary predicate to being able to open up, show up and co-create trust.

 

In what ways can a leader create an environment of safety to allow team members to be vulnerable?

Leaders play a key role in creating this safe space, particularly by role modeling. As a leader, it is up to you to step in first. Show up with your real story that will disrupt the typical pattern of hiding behind the veil. By taking action, you are giving your team a real case-study of how — and more importantly, why — it works.

 

“The HEIGHT of a team’s performance compared to its potential is directly related to the DEPTH of connection among its members.”