By Maanda Tshifularo
IN ALL YOUR SEEKING, FIND CLARITY
I can’t think of another time when it has been more important to be super clear. Even in the best of times, the world is a complex and difficult place – and our current circumstances, characterised by instability and uncertainty, is hardly the best of times. Now, more than ever, we need clarity to create innovative solutions that achieve desired outcomes and make a difference.
I define super clarity as the unique combination of extensive understanding, abundant knowledge, and insight. It’s the combination of what you know, and how you align this with your systems and structures that brings success. When things are going well, companies tend to become derailed, chasing anything shiny and bright; entertaining ideas that are barely relevant to their operations. As they lose focus, they tend to lose money and increase costs, too. But, as we face the challenges brought about by climate change, geopolitical tensions and crises such as pandemics, there is no mistaking the need to stay on course. Nor is there any mistaking that we need to be the people who make an impact, make a difference and make a contribution. Super clarity is no longer an option, it is essential. Every day, we are met with uncertainty and the unknown, yet find ourselves having to make difficult choices. In this milieu, it’s important to remember to make what is important rise to the top and become clear by developing a lens of super clarity. It’s not something we can shelve for later and trot out when it’s time for the next quarterly, biannual or annual review. The time for super clarity is now.
The case for clarity Iconic fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg says: ‘Clarity is the most important thing. I can compare clarity to pruning in gardening. You know, you need to be clear. If you are not clear, nothing is going to happen. You have to be clear. Then you have to be confident about your vision. And after that, you just have to put a lot of work in.’ The dictionary definition of clarity holds that it is ‘the ease of understanding one another’. If I’m clear when I communicate, you can understand me perfectly.
I like to look at clarity from three different points of view: you can have personal clarity, strategic clarity, and team clarity. Each of these perspectives may be very different, but they share one very strong component. If I were to distil each to its essence, they would all be rooted in alignment.
Personal clarity comes about when there is alignment between your values, your purpose and your meaning and, what’s more, when these are aligned to your daily activities. It’s especially important for leaders to have the highest levels of clarity as they often drive agendas and make decisions that impact others.
The same goes for strategic clarity. It’s an inevitable outcome when an organisation is clear on its purpose and the reason for its existence, as well as what makes it distinctive and its capabilities, then marries this to the knowledge of how it will execute it to achieve its stated objectives. If there is solid alignment across all of these aspects, the organisation can be said to have a 100% clarity coefficient.
What about teams? Here, the challenge lies in the manner in which most teams are put together – which is typically haphazard, rather than by design. The unstable dynamics that result are exacerbated by the lack of consistency: Often, these individuals who have been thrown together manage to achieve some kind of equilibrium, only to find this undermined when a member leaves the group or there is a change in roles. These issues tend to be papered over rather than dealt with directly, so the strong foundation which would lead to cohesiveness never materialises. It would be far more effective to guide the team towards a state of unity by encouraging them to delve into those dynamics, by asking clarifying questions such as:
ʹ Who are we as a team?
ʹ How do we work well together?
ʹ What are our strengths?
ʹ What are we trying to achieve, and how are we going to measure this?
It’s only when there is alignment across these key areas that you can achieve clarity in communication – which, in turn, is necessary in order to have clarity in action. And this is critical if you are to achieve anything else. That’s why I think of clarity in thought, communication and action as the true building blocks of the Clarity Revolution.
The signposts of clarity
‘Clear is kind, unclear is unkind,’ says Brené Brown in her book Dare to Lead. I first heard this quote some time ago, but I didn’t internalise it until years later when I delved more into what Brené had meant. She says, ‘I saw the data about how most of us avoid clarity, because we tell ourselves that we’re being kind, but actually doing this is being unkind and unfair. ‘Giving people half-truths, to make them feel better, which is actually almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable. That’s unkind. Not getting clear with a colleague about your expectations because it feels too hard, yet holding them accountable or blaming them for not delivering is unkind. Talking about people rather than to them is unkind.’ Because I have a natural tendency to try to please people, I admit that I am a work in progress when it comes to being super clear in my communication, giving the full truth and, more importantly, giving an unambiguous yes or no, when it’s easier to say ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, sure, sure, sure, that would be great.’ In this way, I’ve found myself getting into projects and collaborations I know aren’t really for me. When I look back at some of my suboptimal business deals and mistakes I have made in my leadership journey (and especially as an entrepreneur), I can almost always trace my poor decisions back to not being super clear with my communication. In fact, the area of communication is the one where I have made the most errors and potentially even ruined relationships. The Bible has powerful words to say about this. In Matthew 5:37, it states ‘Let your “Yes” be “Yes” and your “No” be “No”. Whatever is more than these is of the evil one.’ My ex-boss and mentor, Laurence Hillman used to say, ‘Maanda, hit on the first bounce.’
My observations of people who lead with super clarity have led me to realise that they are able to do just this. What they say, they mean wholeheartedly – and because of that, you can count on them to deliver. By the same token, if they say no, you know that it’s because they don’t have capacity or they won’t be able to deliver. If you’re failing to hit on the first bounce, or stringing people along because you haven’t given them a firm ‘yes’ or ‘no’, you’re probably not leading with super clarity – and, as a result, you’re unnecessarily adding to your mental load, and possibly doing a lot of damage to your relationships. Clarity energises, whereas the lack of clarity leads to a sense of futility and even physical and mental health problems – because, when you don’t have clarity, everything becomes a slog.
I’m not saying that clarity takes the pain out of every situation, but it empowers us. Clarity of vision has inspired art, music and creativity. When you listen to a song, you can hear when a musician was feeling fired up and writing from the heart, and when they were simply going through the motions – that’s why some songs go on to become classics, and others fade into obscurity.
The same applies to art – you can sense when an artist was led by a vision. Creative teams, meanwhile, do their best work when given a clear brief. Great cultures form when we are clear about which behaviours we want to entrench, and which should be discouraged. In contrast, politically charged environments flourish when we aren’t sure about our top values and behaviours.
.This is an extract from Lead with Super Clarity: How Successful Leaders Achieve by By Maanda Tshifularo, published by Tracey McDonald Publishers. Available online and in all good bookstores. Recommended Retail Price: R310.