How to Lead With Clarity

lead with clarity

Lead With Clarity

One of the most common problems facing organizations, teams, and leaders today is a lack of clarity. Clarity is a critical component of success. We all want it, even crave it, but it often seems elusive.

Brad Deutser argues that clarity can be created and help drive people, profit, and performance when it’s found. Brad is founder and CEO of management consulting firm Deutser, and he has worked with a variety of businesses from numerous industries. I found his new book, Leading Clarity: The Breakthrough Strategy to Unleash People, Profit, and Performance, an exceptional read.

We then talked about leadership and clarity:

 

The Clarity Conundrum 

What is the clarity conundrum?
The constant state of change and ever-present chaos in the world today is unprecedented. We are constantly navigating not one world, but multiple worlds simultaneously with the political, societal, social and technological changes that are happening at a more rapid pace than at any time in history. Leaders are forced to make daily decisions in a high-stakes environment that is often entangled with competing needs and priorities where there is not one obvious answer. These decisions have the potential to define their company and determine their ultimate success. We identify these decisions, inflection points or daily puzzles as clarity conundrums. They take many different forms in companies and in the lives of the leader. Clarity conundrums include the need for a new vision/direction, repositioning, a growth imperative, and they often result from a merger, a new leader, an acquisition, a safety issue, crisis, or hitting a plateau or reaching critical juncture point in the organization. What they all have in common is that they require clarity, as a process, to successfully navigate the necessary transition to the desired future state.

 

“Clarity isn’t an arrival point, a vista, or a destination.” -Brad Deutser

 

Think Inside the Box

Why do you advocate thinking inside the box? I love it, and it’s counterintuitive from all the advice commonly shared.
For much of my early career, I was prized as an out of the box thinker. Clients could rely on me to produce ideas and solutions that were fundamentally different and way outside the mainstream. I was wildly creative – but that creativity did not always align with the desired results. About two decades ago, I began to rethink the box paradigm, and using client results and research began to validate that “inside the box” is actually where real creativity, innovation and performance are birthed. Interestingly, in our early research, we challenged people to define their box. Most people simply accepted the metaphor without assigning definition to it. When we uncovered the parameters of the box and put clear definition to each side, including the top and bottom, we were able to fundamentally change the trajectory of business for our clients and the connectivity of the workforce to the organization and its leadership. Inside the box thinking allows leaders to have a clearly defined organization and direction, and employees to have something that they can understand and belong to. It is a game changer.

 

How to Transform A Sluggish Organization

sluggish organization

Leadership Skills for Breaking Inertia

One of my favorite leadership thinkers is Samuel Bacharach. Not only is he a regular columnist for Inc., an author, and a leadership speaker, but he is also the McKelvey-Grant Professor at Cornell University.

He recently released a book that I found to be an incredible addition to my leadership library. Transforming the Clunky Organization: Pragmatic Leadership Skills for Breaking Inertia is one of those books that will inspire both new and seasoned leaders with its practical advice and unique perspective.

If your organization is stuck and you need to break inertia and foster innovation, I can think of no better place to start than with this book.

 

“One of the great ironies of organizational life is that yesterday’s delivery becomes today’s inertia.” -Samuel Bacharach

 

Advance the Agenda

Why this book on leadership and why now?

In the last number of years there has been massive growth in books about leadership and trainings in leadership, but one fundamental question is not asked: What is it in an organizational context do we want leaders to accomplish?

If we are going to train and educate people in leadership, it has to be for a purpose. In an organizational context, that focus has to be on the capacity of people to come up with ideas, move ideas, implement them, create change and innovation, and get things done. In this context, what is important to me is pragmatic leadership—that is, the simple and clear tasks of execution. Not execution as global promise but as a series of skills that can be followed and achieved for results.

In The Agenda Mover: When Your Good Idea Is Not Enough, I discussed the micro-political skills that leaders at levels need to move their agenda: creating coalitions, overcoming resistance, negotiating, and establishing credibility. These often-ignored political skills were the focus of this volume.

Over the last three years I have been focusing on the question, “What do I want leaders to accomplish?” In my experience of some forty-odd years, I realize that great leaders are those who begin to have the sense of when their organization becomes stuck, sluggish, and trapped by inertia.  Great leaders break inertia. They appreciate the dangers of inertia and do something about it. They also understand that organizations may be sluggish and in the doldrums of inertia, even though they continue functioning. These leaders understand that although inertia may not necessarily lead to immediate failure, inertia may impede their organization’s capacity to reach its potential. Transforming the Clunky Organization focuses on the characteristics of organizations that get trapped by inertia and, in turn, suggests leadership skills and strategies leaders can use to overcome sluggishness and inertia.

 

“Organizations get stuck because of sluggishness and inertia. Great leaders know how to break inertia.” -Samuel Bacharach

 

Why Organizations Become Sluggish

1,001 Ways to Engage Employees

employee engagement

Increase Employee Engagement

One of the top priorities for leaders is employee engagement. For several years, I have seen countless books and executives looking at every possible method for increasing engagement.

Bob Nelson says that it’s time to move beyond measuring it. “It’s now time to focus the behaviors that truly impact employee engagement, and not just the scores that measure it.”

In his book, 1,001 Ways to Engage Employees: Help People Do Better What They Do Best, Dr. Bob Nelson provides the methods for increasing engagement. I recently spoke with him about his new book.

 

“If you have a good boss, you have a good job. That’s true the world around.” –Dr. Bob Nelson

 

Simple Things to Do Today

Share some surprising gems from the 1,001 ideas in the book.

Probably the biggest surprise for me has been the fact that the greatest motivators for today’s employees don’t require a big budget to implement, but are relatively simple, behavioral things any manager can do with their immediate team.  Thanking employees for doing good work, asking for their input and ideas, providing them autonomy and authority to get their work done, involving them in decisions that affect them, two-way communication, and using mistakes as learning opportunities for them to improve are some of the key take-aways.

 

“Most managers ignore or underestimate the power of praise.” -Roger Flax

 

Which ones have gotten more enthusiastic feedback than you expected? 

The book is still new, but readers in general love the real-life examples and pithy, fun quotes—both of which support the topics discussed. Hearing a great example makes readers immediately ask, “Why couldn’t we do that in our work group?” In this way, the book becomes a motivator of change: to try something new that may very well get you a better result. That’s my ultimate goal: to help people better manage their employees so they feel more valued for what they do and are more successful as a result.

 

And which ones might be most useful when the organization needs to bounce back from a bad shock?

Communication is critical in working with others, and you have to do more of that in tough times and times of change.  Managers’ tendencies, however, are to withdraw during tough times, so you have to fight that tendency and force yourself to be out there, speaking with employees, answering questions and helping them do a better job. Likewise, for employee recognition.  So many managers have an unstated assumption that they expect employees to always do good work, so they don’t have to thank them for it when they do. To the contrary, you need to proactively catch people doing good work in order to get them to more easily continue to do so. No one likes to work for a manager that only finds their faults and mistakes…

 

What do most managers get wrong when they think of engagement?

Who Are You Serving?

serve to lead

Who Are You Serving?

That’s the question on the back cover of James Strock’s new book Serve to Lead: 21st Century Leaders Manual. It’s the first of four questions posed by the author. Serve to Lead is filled with principles that inspire us to the highest level of leadership. It’s an essential leadership guide for anyone aspiring to take their game to a higher-level. As someone who writes and speaks about servant leadership, I found it a compelling read.

James Strock is an author and leadership speaker, an entrepreneur, and a reformer. I recently asked him to share his perspective on the changing nature of leadership.

 

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

21st Century Leadership

What has changed in the field of leadership for the 21st Century? 

Our lives and work are undergoing extensive, high-velocity change. It’s inevitable that leadership—which is about relationships and relates to all parts of our world—would be transformed.

Among the most significant changes is the breakdown of longstanding barriers that defined leadership. For example, individuals holding high positions of power traditionally tended to be distant from the those they served. Today, anyone can find a way to communicate with almost anyone else through new technologies. Such individuals no longer have the zones of privacy that separated their personal and professional lives. Elective politicians have been experiencing this new world for some time. Corporate and NGO officials are now liable to be held to account in the same way.

The new trends are part of a transformational change wrought by digital technology. In the 20th Century interactions were generally transactional. Now, by contrast, we’re in a web of relationships. Those relationships can be established or defined by individuals rather than by large public and private institutions.

The ongoing empowerment of individuals and previously isolated or marginalized groups through new technology has accelerated the longstanding trend toward leadership exerted through influence rather than domination or dictation. That doesn’t mean that the world has magically become a utopian paradise or democracy. It does mean that leadership roles are subject to greater accountability, and the tools of workaday management and service are in transition.

 

“Organizations exist to serve. Period. Leaders live to serve. Period.” -Tom Peters

 

What are the unique challenges of our day that impact leadership? 

A unique, unprecedented challenge of 21st-Century leadership is involuntary transparency. Traditional notions of separate work and personal lives are being upended. Presidential candidates are pursued 24/7 by stalkers with video cameras. They lay in wait for a moment of anger, a moment of exhaustion, or a moment of pique. Then they pounce! Skilled propagandists will utilize such human moments to convey a negative narrative that appears more credible through a captured moment that may have no actual relevance.

Those who would lead are being curtailed in their capacity to craft a narrative. One can see advantages when this exposes relevant hypocrisy. Yet there are also costs. It can surely inflame the mistrust and cynicism that is afflicting the populace. It can also prompt people to turn away from positional leadership roles.

How involuntary transparency will be negotiated with expectations of privacy is one of the great questions of evolving 21st-Century leadership.

 

“First, always ask for the order, and second, when the customer says yes, stop talking.” -Michael Bloomberg

 

Everyone Can Lead

Are Your Conversations Worth Having?

conversations

Leadership Conversations

Conversations are a critical part of conducting business, of leading teams, of interacting with others.

Despite their obvious importance, how often do we think about them as a crucial skill?

Imagine if everyone on your team became exceptional at having meaningful conversations. Do you think it would translate to more wins? I’m certain of it, and that’s why I thoroughly enjoyed reading a new book by Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres. The authors packed so much wisdom and experience into Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement that you will find yourself referring back to it as an essential conversation reference guide.

Jackie Stavros is a professor at Lawrence Technological University; Appreciative Inquiry strategic advisor at Flourishing Leadership Institute; and an associate at Taos Institute. Cheri Torres is a Senior Consultant with NextMove and Partner at Innovation Partners International.

I recently spoke with Jackie and Cheri about their work.

 

“We live in worlds our conversations create.” -David Cooperrider

 

The Power of a Good Conversation

Talk about the power of a good conversation.

Torres: Actually, conversation is powerful, period, whether it’s a good one or a bad one. A bad conversation can turn a good day sour, influencing interactions for hours to come. A good conversation can brighten your day and propel you into high performance and a sense of elation. When you think about it, everything arises from conversation. We’re either carrying on an internal dialogue or engaged with others, each conversation influencing what’s possible in the next moment. Conversations influence our health, wellness, happiness, relationships, performance, and what’s possible.

 

“Sometimes the greatest adventure is simply a conversation.” -Amadeus Wolf

 

With their importance, why do conversations not seem to get enough attention in business?

Torres: Conversations are such an integral part of functioning in community that we take them for granted. Until recently, there was nothing drawing our attention to their importance. Research in the field of neurophysiology, however, is showing that conversations are integral to our capacity to access the executive center of our brain, the pre-fontal cortex, where higher order thinking, creativity, trust, good decision making, and the ability to connect are possible. Conversations that trigger fear or uncertainly stimulate the release of cortisol, epinephrine, and testosterone, shutting down access to the pre-frontal cortex and stimulating fight, flight, freeze, or appease. A good conversation has the power to shift the brain from threat to safety, simulating a whole different set of hormones—oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. These hormones help us reconnect, open up to what others have to say, and rekindle trust. Further research in positive psychology corresponds, showing that positivity in the workplace builds resiliency, high performance, innovation, and collaboration. Organizations that have taken this research to heart and have shifted leadership and management practices are discovering the amazing power of a great conversation – a conversation worth having.

 

Contrast a destructive versus an affirmative conversation. What are the effects of a destructive conversation? How long do they last?

Torres: In our book, in Chapter 2: What Kind of Conversations Are You Having, we classify four different kinds of conversations. All interactions either add-value or they devalue people and situations, and all conversations are either inquiry-based or statement-based.  If your questions devalue a person or situation, we refer to those kinds of conversations as “critical conversations.” If you are telling and devaluing others, we call those “destructive.”  Critical and destructive conversations typically trigger a threat response in others, and we just spoke about how that impacts us. The impact of such conversations can last a long time, long after the cortisol has left the system.  The reason why? Our memory stores our experience; this person is recognized as unsafe. This of course inhibits working well together.

On the other hand, if you are telling and adding value, we refer to those interactions as “affirmative conversations.” Acknowledging strengths, complementing a job well done, advocating for someone or something are examples of affirmative conversations. If you are asking questions that add value or generate value, we call those conversations worth having. Affirmative conversations will shift the brain from distrust to trust; conversations worth having will broaden and deepen that shift allowing people to bring their full value to relationships in the workplace, at home, and/or in communities.

 

“Your conversations help create your world. Speak of delight, not dissatisfaction. Speak of hope, not despair. Let your words bind up wounds, not cause them.” -Tao Te Ching

 

What is appreciative inquiry and how does it relate to communication?