Lead with clarity

The response to Covid-19 is dominating almost every sector at the moment, as well it should. One of the trends of the pandemic, and the key topic for this January newsletter, is: How should leaders explain their decisions? Or, put another way, how do you lead with clarity?

You’ve taken that tough call. You and your colleagues have agonised over it, gathered data, taken soundings, considered plans A through F, and Comms have checked and rechecked your announcement. You thinks it’s clear, simple, unambiguous. But that may not be enough.

Maybe, once, being in charge meant never having to explain yourself, and a clear and unambiguous instruction was enough. But twenty-first-century leadership is about taking people with you, not commanding them to do your bidding. And that requires a very different sort of clarity.

Clarity of vision

It’s not enough to communicate the particular decision. For example, keeping open a university campus for some students. Or the actions you now expect people to take. For example, showing up to staff residences, or teach face-to-face. 

What is the vision behind the decision? How did you navigate all of the possibilities and demands to come up with this course of action? People want to see your workings. People want to understand how you’ve come to the decision. This is a powerful means of persuasion, and you shouldn’t pass it up. But it does require you to know precisely what decision you’ve reached and why. Leaders who want to fudge a tough call or duck accountability will find it impossible to meet this challenge.

We’ll write about how you develop that sort of clarity in the future, but coaching and various deep-thinking techniques will help you hone that quality in your decision-making.

Authenticity, or consistency with purpose

Communicating your thought process and your own feelings about the decision is part of communicating with authenticity. But it’s not quite enough to be personally authentic. The decision also needs to be consistent with the purpose around which, hopefully, your organisation coalesces. 

Taking a decision for the wrong reasons is okay if it turns out to be the right decision, yeah? Well, given the growing importance of purpose to employees in all sectors and organisations, the answer’s probably, “No!”

Connecting the decision to your organisation’s purpose is the only way to make sure that you lead with clarity, not just communicate yourself clearly. This can be difficult when the espoused purpose of the organisation doesn’t line up well with the actual purpose of day-to-day leadership and management. This is a common problem across public-sector organisations, where keeping the organisation afloat financially may be in tension with the purpose of the organisation’s core work or wider social purpose.

Decisions that are tough to make likely live in that zone of tension. That might feel difficult to convey, and maybe you want to shy away from expressing it. But that difficulty is actually an opportunity. If you can lean in to communicating the difficulty of the decision authentically, on a personal level, and explain how it balances the different imperatives of the organisation, you’ll be able to lead, not just dictate.

This article is the lead item in the January 2021 edition of Moved’s monthly newsletter: Mission-oriented, values-driven. Sign up now to never miss a post, and enjoy extra content, including our Insights and Tidbits.