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 

Be a Force for Change

violent leadership

Violent Leadership: Be a Force For Change

 

To achieve a goal, you need planning, action, risk and disruption. In Violent Leadership: Be a Force for Change, Wesley Middleton argues that leaders should be a force for change.

Wesley Middleton is the author of Violent Leadership: Be a Force for Change, co-founder and managing partner of Middleton Raines + Zapata LLP, a tax and accounting services firm.

I recently spoke to Wesley about his book.

 

“The word refers to a distinctive type of leadership that is passionate, innovative, and disruptive and above all takes things by force.” -Wesley Middleton

 

Wesley, I’ve studied every type of leadership you can imagine. I’ve attended every seminar and read literally thousands of books. But this is a first. Violent leadership. Tell us more about this and why and how you started writing about it.

As I grew in my business, I learned that my ideas and thoughts weren’t “normal” for my profession. At the time, I didn’t recognize it. I believed that everything I was saying and doing was what everyone thought. It was when I started hearing “no” a lot and other professionals began questioning my ideas that I realized I was not thinking like everyone else. Because of that I began to write my experiences in short blog fashion and began to capture my thoughts and ideas on paper. After writing several articles and blogs, I realized I had a theme that was rooted in my faith. I lived by Matthew 11:12.

Matthew 11:12 (KJV) reads, “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force.” The Modern English version says, “The kingdom of heaven is forcefully advanced, and the strong take it by force.” I was living by those incredible words: violence as force and as leadership.

Due to the obvious nature of the word violent, I kept it to myself. The phrase “Violent Leadership” is not something you would expect to see in the business world, yet it was what I lived by. The word refers to a distinctive type of leadership that is passionate, innovative, and disruptive and above all takes things by force. It does not refer to fighting, anger, or brutality. It is a positive and energetic pursuit of purpose and success. I decided to tell the world.

violent leadership book coverViolent Leadership has been my style of leadership from day one. It has evolved and grown, been tempered and threatened with termination, but it is still at the core of my belief that goals and success do not just happen. Achievement takes planning, action, risk, and disruption—it takes Violent Leadership.

 

 

“Be the thermostat that sets the tone and culture in your firm.” -Wesley Middleton

 

Have a Willingness to Fail

10 Ways to Lead Like a Human

This is a guest post by Andy Swann. Andy is the author of The Human Workplace: People-Centred Organizational Development.  He is the founder of Simple Better Human, a creative organization development consultancy.

 

Lead Like a Human

There’s a lot of talk about the move from management to true leadership, as well as the need to be human in the face of data and the impending rise of the robots. It’s easy to get lost in it all and hard to really understand why any of it matters.

The truth is that when people thrive, our organizations thrive too, so the sole function of leadership should be to enable people to be their best and do their best work. Leaders today are the creators and custodians of platforms for human success.

Here are 10 ways every leader can contribute to the platform, enable people to thrive, drive organizational success and get more from their own role. These are inspired by research which has encountered leaders across organizations of all shapes and sizes, with common factors in success shining through.

 

Listen

Things move fast in modern business, and the people who have the greatest insight are those closest to the customer. Insight is the evidence that should drive strategy, and the faster we can access it and use it, the more plugged-in our organization is to what the world needs from it. Take time every day to talk to your people, find out how they are doing, and what issues they face. Then offer support and congratulate them on their success. In workplace change, one of the major factors that contributes to things going wrong—which happens in 70% of cases (McKinsey, 2015)—is the feeling that management isn’t listening. Give people a voice!

 

“Insight is the evidence that should drive strategy.” –Andy Swann

 

Trust

Your job as a leader is to ensure you have the right people, in the right places, doing the right things. If your recruitment process is right, then the people are right – there’s no need to micromanage every task. Trusting the individual to find their own best way to succeed, within the most basic parameters that they need to operate in, not only empowers them, but allows them to do their best work. It also reduces the workload of the leader – instead of box-ticking, you can be out there involved with your people and collecting valuable insight.

 

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” –Ernest Hemingway

 

Learn

Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition

dna

Branding that Gets to Aha!

Andy Cunningham played a key role in the launch of the original Macintosh. Which I think qualifies her to say, “Hey, I’m kind of a big deal!” I mean, Steve Jobs level big deal.

But she doesn’t say that at all. Instead, she helps other organizations with branding, positioning and marketing.

She’s just released a book, Get to Aha!: Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition. It’s a framework to help you understand and position your company. I found it intriguing and asked her to share some of her experience with you.

 

“Perceptions today are grounded in and sustained by authenticity.” -Andy Cunningham

 

Branding Gone Wrong

You recently surveyed 100 North American CEOs, and fewer than 1/3 felt that the brand strategy they had commissioned had been effective. Why do we so often get it wrong?

Branding campaigns fail or fall flat for several reasons: resistance to change, uncertainty around how to implement the strategy, too many competing ideas—maybe even business strategy that has moved beyond a recently completed brand initiative.

But there’s another big reason: branding is too much fun. (Yes, really!) Branding is the part of a marketing campaign that gets a lot of attention—the eye candy that the senior leadership is quick to notice. Why? Because it speaks to the emotional side of a product or service and is a great distraction from the day-to-day, boring details behind that product or service. But when you launch straight into branding before parsing those “boring” details—before you understand the exact space in the marketing landscape your company is uniquely qualified to fill—you’re putting the cart before the horse. A sexy or fun brand package is great to look at, but if it doesn’t capture a company’s role and relevance in the market (its position), then it’s little more than a pretty face without any substance to back it up. That’s where my DNA-based methodology comes in. It offers an actionable framework for using your company’s genetic makeup to determine competitive advantage.

 

 

The 2 Most Important Questions

How Servant Leaders Achieve Better Results

bridge to growth

How Servant Leaders Achieve Better Results

Recent studies show that only about 20 percent of workers understand their company’s mission and goals. Only 21 percent say they would “go the extra mile.” Less than 40 percent believes senior leaders communicate openly and honestly.

Today many feel that they are over-managed and under-led.

Jude Rake has over 35 years leading high-performance teams. He is the founder and CEO of JDR Growth Partners, a leadership consulting firm.

I’ve written and spoken about servant leadership all over the world. And so I read with great interest Jude’s new book, The Bridge to Growth: How Servant Leaders Achieve Better Results and Why It Matters Now More Than Ever and asked him to share some of his thinking and research with you.

 

“Servant leaders focus their organization externally on the marketplace.” –Jude Rake

 

Learn from Pat Summitt

You personally observed Pat Summitt’s leadership and watched her in action at half-time. You saw her growing other leaders, not demanding followership. It was such a powerful example. Would you share that story?

Several years ago when I was COO at a large consumer products company, we needed a keynote speaker for our annual marketing and sales meeting. Given that our company was a big sponsor of NCAA women’s college basketball, we decided to invite Pat Summitt to be our keynote speaker.

Pat inspired everyone with her energy and her famous “Definite Dozen Leadership Traits for On and Off the Court Success.” After our meeting at dinner, I shared with Pat that I had coached youth basketball for many years. She graciously took interest and invited me to be a guest coach at a Lady Vols game. I was floored! I took her up on her offer and eventually travelled to Knoxville for an unforgettable weekend.

I knew that Pat was an outstanding coach, and I admired her for her accomplishments, but I had no idea just how good she was at cultivating leaders throughout the Tennessee women’s basketball program. From the moment I stepped onto that campus, everything was executed with excellence. I soon learned that I would be shadowing Pat. I discovered firsthand why so many recruits chose the Lady Vols program, and why so many former players and coaches use terms of endearment when recalling Pat Summitt’s influence on their lives.

 

“Confidence is what happens when you’ve done the hard work that entitles you to succeed.” –Pat Summitt

 

Game day was quite a production, from pre-game activities to post-game reception. Anyone who watched Pat from the sidelines might expect her to lead everything with an iron fist. It was quite the opposite. Pat was clearly orchestrating everything . . . but the entire weekend appeared to be executed by everyone but Pat. She had done most of her leading and coaching in practice. The assistant coaches and players stepped up to the plate time and again, as did her administrative support staff. They took turns leading, and they collaboratively leaned on each other’s strengths to elevate performance throughout game day activities.

During the game, we sat immediately behind Pat and the team. At halftime the Lady Vols were trailing. We went into the locker room with the team. Pat was not there. I watched as the players—by themselves—took turns facilitating a brainstorming session about what had worked well and what needed improvement. Then they presented their analysis to the assistant coaches for input and guidance. Clearly, these players and assistant coaches had been trained well. They knew what to do without being micro-managed. Finally, Pat joined the team, and the players and assistant coaches collectively presented their conclusions. Pat succinctly graded their performance and assessments, added her own personal evaluation, and they aligned on an action plan for the second half. Everyone had led at some point. They leaned on each other’s strengths and focused on the biggest opportunities for improvement. They debated vigorously and respectfully. Ownership was achieved. There was no lecture or screaming. Half-time ended with a quintessential Pat Summitt inspirational call to heightened intensity and hustle, and the team went out and kicked their opponents’ behinds!

For me, this was an impressive example of a leader growing leaders and difference-makers, not just demanding followership. Pat Summitt showed us that leaders can be demanding, passionate, and ultra-competitive, yet still focus a significant amount of their time, energy, and empathy on the development of leaders at all levels of their organization. It’s what fueled her unprecedented results at Tennessee, and it’s the most important thing leaders do.

 

“Servant leaders bring out the best in others.” –Jude Rake

 

How to Build a Team