The One Thing You Need To Know

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Throughout my professional and personal leadership journey, I have developed a sense of clarity in that what people you lead crave the most is … well, clarity. Of all the gifts and tools you can provide those you lead, the one resource that means the most is clarity. What is clarity, and how do you “do” clarity well? Through in-depth interviews and research (covered elsewhere but not in this book), Buckingham proves that when you stay laser-focused on providing compelling clarity to others, they can respond and perform in ways that they didn’t even imagine possible. The book’s title is deceiving – there are actually many things you need to know, but the ONE thing most important is that if you only have one gift to provide to those you lead today, make it clarity. Read on! (And thanks to Dr. Roger Brown, former Chancellor in the University of Tennessee system, for this book recommendation way back when.)

Page 5: “To get the best performance from your people, you have to be able to execute a number of different roles very well. You have to be able to select people effectively. You have to set expectations by defining clearly the outcomes you want. You have to motivate people by focusing on their strengths and managing around their weaknesses. And, as they challenge you to help them grow, you have to learn how to steer them toward roles that truly fit them, rather than simply promoting them up the corporate ladder.”

At Crouch & Associates, we have encountered many organizations where not only rank-and-file staff do not feel clear expectations from leadership, but where folks have been promoted well before their time thanks to attrition, an artificial time clock, or because of the (incorrect) assumption that outstanding individual production somehow predicts outstanding management. We always encourage those we consult with to (1) clearly outline what success in an employee’s role looks like; (2) install simple accountability tools – like our 5x15 and 6x6 system – to ensure clarity in expectations; and (3) develop and stick to a “Leadership Runway” path for each employee who possesses the potential … and be slow, not fast to promote! Remember, un-promoting someone is many times messier than promoting someone when deserved.

Pages 58-59: “When organizations say that each and every employee can be a leader, more often than not they are referring to these four behaviors: initiative, creativity, courage and integrity. And, in one sense, they are right to call attention to these behaviors. Each employee CAN take initiative, and figure out new ways of getting things done, and show resolve, and take full responsibility for his actions …. But they err when they label these behaviors ‘leadership.’ …. If you are a person of integrity, take initiative, improvise creative solutions….and have the courage of your convictions, you will be a formidable and effective human being, and surely an asset to any organization, but you will not necessarily be a leader.

So what does define leadership? …. Great leaders rally people to a better future.”

Ask almost anyone we consult with, and their answer to the question “How do you lead?” will be almost the same three steps: “Define Reality … Cast Vision … Inspire Hope.” These three elements, combined together, create a powerful leadership recipe with clarity as the main ingredient. A leader can see what’s on the other side of the tunnel. A leader possesses a clear, vivid image of what that world looks like, and is preoccupied with it. And while plenty of folks are competitive in business, goal-oriented, and coach others well, it’s not what makes them effective leaders. It is this insatiable hunger for a better future, and their ability to rally others to the vision they see. Think about George Washington’s address to Congress … or Kennedy’s debate with Nixon … or former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “Fairness For All” speech in 2003, one of the best oratories ever given. “This is reality, I’m not satisfied with it, and the friction between ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’ should drive us all!” That’s the mantra of true, clarity-first leadership.  

Pages 70-71: “….the distinction between the manager and the leader….the Manager’s starting point is the individual employee. He looks at her palette of talents, skills, knowledge, experience, and goals, and then uses these to design a specific future in which the individual can be successful. That person’s success is his focus.

The leader sees things differently. He starts with his image of the future. This better future is what he talks about, thinks about, ruminates on, designs and refines. Only with this image clear in his mind does he turn his attention to persuading other people that they can be successful in the future he envisions. But through it all, the future remains his focus.

Many folks ask me if being a Manager and a Leader is simultaneously possible – meaning, can I be both? You can certainly wear both hats, but if you’re going to, you need to know when to switch hats. When you need to manage, begin with the person in front of you. When you need to lead, begin with the picture of the future you are headed to.

There are different characteristics of good managing and good leading, but one element is both critical and common: CLARITY. Good managers select the right people and operate good environments, but most importantly, they define clear expectations. Think about it – have you ever met a confused productive employee? (Me neither.) Unfortunately, not many managers are good about providing clarity. This is where our 6x6 and 5x15 (as well as our Daily High Performance List) systems help perfectly!

Good leaders constantly and clearly paint a picture of the future. They filter the pressures and priorities and create from them a clear focus.

Page 145: “The problem for you, the modern-day leader, is that you traffic in the unknown. All of your conversations concern the unknown, the future, and the possibilities you see there. If you are going to succeed as a leader, you simply must find a way to engage our fear of the unknown and turn it into spiritedness. If great managers are catalysts, speeding up the reaction between individual talent and company goals, then great leaders are alchemists: Somehow they are able to transform our fear of the unknown into confidence in the future.”

And this is where the rubber meets the road. Great leaders get that way because they can effectively turn fear into confidence. Those we serve are often paralyzed by fear, anxiety and stress … and that paralysis prevents action. What if you could define the future in vivid terms – through your words, actions, pictures, etc. so that we can all see where you (and thus we) are headed? That’s leadership clarity, and it is so needed … in those we serve at Crouch & Associates, and likely far beyond.

Anthropologists have concluded that all humans have universal needs. One of them is clarity. A leader’s job must in some way lean into all of these needs, but above all else, the leader must address our need for clarity. Understanding how this fleshes out by asking the question “who do we serve?” is worth the price of this book on its own!

Scott Koskoski

Crouch & Associates

Regional Director & Performance Consultant