Creating leadership clarity in turbulent times
Updated: Oct 10
"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest. Second, by imitation, which is easiest. And third by experience, which is bitterest." Confucius - Chinese philosopher
Shamal Sivasanker, CEO Coachfluence. 8 October 2021.
Leadership clarity is about discovering your purpose, exploring your strategic outcomes, and defining your actions
A time of great uncertainty and turbulence is a perfect opportunity for leaders to step up and provide clarity. The more uncertain the environment, the clearer the direction must be. If your company is going through tough times, you need to have a clear vision of where it's headed as well as how you're going to get there. In this blog post, we explore what leadership clarity looks like in turbulent times and offer practical tips on getting there from here.
Leadership clarity is about creating an unambiguous statement of intent for what you or your organization want to achieve in terms of its strategy, outcomes, and how you are going to achieve this.
It is a defining moment for any leader in creating their strategic narrative for their organization to move forward and win in the market.
One of the key challenges that leaders face is that they are overstimulated by multiple priorities and messages that they receive daily, that often clarity becomes impossible because of competing priorities.
It is in this context that leaders need to take time out to reflect and think about their strategies, outcomes, and results.
I recall sitting in a lecture at the Gordon Institute of Business Science forum in Johannesburg in 2012, where the leader for the strategy faculty and school dean, Dr. Nick Binedell, was asked a question from the floor as to what he believed organizations needed to consider when developing a strategy.
His response at the time surprised me: he said that leaders should take the time, to shut out the noise from the outside world and meditate to bring focus and self-alignment so that they could concentrate on the priority items.
This resonated with me because as a leader in an organization, we deal with so many competing priorities daily that we often forget about what is truly important for success in our roles as opposed to dealing with the noise.
Leadership clarity is a reflective process that leaders need to engage in regular sprints - to develop their strategic insights and priorities about their roles.
So why is leadership clarity so important in turbulent times?
Ambiguous narratives confuse stakeholders and lead to diminished outcomes and results.
Being clear about one’s purpose and objectives is critical to achieving desired results. When times are tough, organizations need clear signals about why they need to do things, how they need to do things and what needs to be done.
Being clear about what you want to achieve and why it is important helps rally the organization around a common purpose and is the fuel to achieving the desired outcomes.
Yet leaders do not spend enough time on self-reflection and alignment to get these results. Joseph Badaracco, the John Shad Professor of Business Ethics at Harvard Business School, in his book: “Step Back: Bringing the Art of Reflection into Your Busy Life” tells us about how executives cannot take the time to reflect, and that despite knowing this, they are focused on the noise-making priorities vs the impact-making priorities.
Some of the common feedback I hear in my work as a leader and strategy consultant:
“There aren’t enough hours in a day”
“There is no time – I go from home to work and back again and no with the pandemic it’s all blurred”
“We are in meetings all the time”
When one considers how complex and difficult the current pandemic era has made the working environment, there is an increased requirement for executives to reflect on whether they're doing the right things.
Five things to do to seek leadership clarity
1. Be clear about your purpose
Seek clarity internally as to what is driving you in your role and function. Recent global studies have demonstrated that defining and stating one’s purpose has a tremendous amount of self-alignment with the roles that leaders fulfill.
Try to answer these questions for yourself:
“What problem do I exist to solve?” as a leader/business in this role? Do I know the problem?
What is the problem? What am I trying to do better?
If you have solved the problem and achieved your purpose, what would the world be like? (Mercurio, n.d.) What would you feel and see in the changing world?
What is holding you back? / What’s the opportunity here?
What would you set as a personal vision if you knew you could not fail?
This helps break through the noise and create clarity. Seeking outside perspective through leadership conversations with peers (not necessarily only within the organization but outside too) helps refine these ideas.
2. Take the time to work through the important challenges
Building a routine to regularly self-check and assess if you are navigating through the issues, in a deliberate and structured manner is an important step. Making time to reflect on priorities, risks, and execution challenges is important to lift your head and get out of the trenches is a key part of this routine. Some key questions to ask:
Is what I am doing still adding value?
Is it aligned to the overall strategy?
Is it making an impact?
Are there any blind spots related to what I am doing?
Why must I continue with this action if it serves no purpose?
Some leaders have taken to various forms of meditation and mindfulness practices to clear their minds so that they can think through the issues. Some leaders take a break from the corporate treadmill and get onto their physical treadmills. This helps as well.
The most important thing is to have a routine and stick to it with a steady cadence.
3. Seek clarity through conversations
We touched on this earlier. When we are in the trenches we are under pressure, taking decisions rapidly, whereas what we need to do is think strategically.
Ever read a book called “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman? He is a Nobel laureate that introduced the notion that the human mind has two systems of thinking.
System 1 is the portion of the human mind that is intuitive, effortless, unconscious, and fast. We often commit to actions and decisions in work with these because of memory or what we learned.
System 2 is the slow thinking of the rational mind. It requires effort to perform, for example as in the process of solving math problems. (Kahneman, n.d.). In the work environment, it is deliberating on a sensitive issue taking into consideration the risks, as an example.
System 2 can override system 1. The book is profound in that it helps us understand how we make decisions, and where our biases reside.
Seeking clarity through conversation is a way of reflecting on the pertinent issues and having someone induce new thinking, or just soundboard the thinking, reduce biases and make impactful decisions. Again, it is deliberate and a system 2 way of approaching resolving an issue.
4. Reflecting on the tools to succeed
A key part of success is identifying if the leader is adequately equipped with resources and tools to address the challenges ahead.
Some questions to ask yourself: -
Do I have the right talent around me to help me succeed?
Do I have the right partners to set me up for success?
What other resources do I require to achieve my objectives?
And what will you do if you have access to these resources? What will you do if you don’t?
How does this generate clarity for you to achieve your outcomes?
I recall an example where a leader was appointed to drive change in an organization but had no staff reporting to her, had no budget defined to make the change, and had no strategic partners to assist her either. Yet she succeeded because she was clear about her start and endpoints for the change, how she would make the changes, whom she would work with, and what she was going to measure and hold people accountable for. A recipe for clarity of actions!
5. “Great results can be achieved with small forces” – Sun Tzu (The Art of War)
Much has been said about objectives and key results (OKRs) in recent years. There are many different management performance systems yet none as simple as an OKR. Emanating from the 1950s, made popular by IBM in the 1960s, then Google in the 1990s, and today deployed at scale across numerous companies, OKRs help demonstrate the path of least energy and resistance to get to an outcome.
Defining your objectives is about creating practical and measurable results. It’s about deconstructing the challenge into small, practical outcomes to achieve so that the sum of parts is greater than the whole.
This helps leaders to be clear about what they will achieve on a monthly or quarterly basis. It creates focus, alignment, engagement, transparency, and accountability.
When defining objectives, try to get granular quickly and identify the ones that will create the desired outcome. Spend time reflecting as to whether the outcomes defined are actionable and measurable in practical terms.
All of this helps create leadership clarity.
With the world changing at a rapid pace, it’s more important than ever to have clarity in your leadership. Creating that sense of purpose is essential for teams who are feeling lost or without direction. It can be done through defining outcomes and strategic goals with an understanding of how they will impact the company's future.
Once you know where you want to go, there are four keys to developing momentum through actions- clear communication on roles and responsibilities; transparency about what needs fixing; enabling people by giving them tools to succeed; accountability when things don't go as expected.
The techniques described here are the building blocks to achieving this.
Coachfluence helps leaders to develop leadership clarity
Based on our experience, and leading management frameworks, we have developed the Leadership Sandbox – an immersive experience to guide the leader in terms of clarity of purpose, actionable outcomes, and results.
Our approach helps the leader refine their thinking within a safe environment to address their biggest issues and concerns in a structured approach to answer their burning questions and lead their teams.
We create strategic momentum and agility for our client leaders and their teams and organizations.
If any of this resonates with you, please let me know! We would welcome the opportunity to help clarify your role so that we assist you to get back into peak performance!
1. Kahneman, D. (n.d.). Supersummary - Think fast think slow. Retrieved from https://www.supersummary.com/thinking-fast-and-slow/index-of-terms/#209255
2. Mercurio, Z. (n.d.). 3 Powerful Questions for Developing a Compelling Vision. Retrieved from https://www.zachmercurio.com/2018/06/build-powerful-vision-imagine-world-youre-no-longer-needed/