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Special to The Globe and Mail – Wednesday, May. 22 2013 – See in Globe and Mail


“Everyone needs to know where they’re going.” David Scholz, chief marketing officer of Leger Marketing, a Canadian-owned research and strategic marketing firm with over 600 employees, emphasizes why being clear is an important skill for leaders. “If no one is telling you, you’ll set your own direction; the result is 100 staff members going in 100 different directions.”

With the pace of change accelerating, virtually every organizational and team leader must be able to continually clarify where the enterprise is going, why this is necessary, how everyone can contribute and what their efforts are achieving. This requires being clear in several important areas.

Vision: Successful leaders are able to paint a compelling and inspiring picture of what that future will look like. David Scholz points out that establishing a coherent future direction for an enterprise is essential. “If I don’t articulate in a clear way, each person can interpret the message differently.”

A leader must be able to set the direction, create a sense of shared purpose and guide behaviour. This requires developing your own clear vision of where you want to go, describing this future to others in simple language and providing meaningful guidance regarding how to move forward.

Message: The message must also be clear and consistent to be believable. People need context as to why certain priorities are important and an explanation of not only how the organization will benefit but also how they will personally benefit. Mr. Scholz articulates this information through direct, simple messages to all stakeholders – not only employees but also clients and even long-time executives.

Expectations: Being clear also requires describing expectations and responsibilities for every employee, how their work contributes to the vision, and what outcomes are needed to succeed. Joanne Balles, who has led two design companies and is currently a marketing executive with Toronto-based Jackman Reinvention Inc., says this requires clarifying direction at every opportunity. “Always start with ‘We’re here to do this.’” When this is repeated at every meeting, she says people begin trusting the message. They also gain context, meaning for their work, inspiration and guidance for decision making.

Performance: Employees want to know what’s expected of them. They also want to know that leaders are paying attention to their efforts. Thus leaders must be clear about performance – communicating goals and expectations, and also providing feedback. Ms. Balles has learned that employees appreciate discussions regarding “how we support one another, how we respond if we/someone messes up and how we would recover.” Giving people a consistent message and tools to address challengers creates ambassadors throughout the organization.

While these strategies may sound straightforward, clarity is often a learned skill. It takes time and practice to simplify and clarify. Here are some tips to help you become the kind of team or organizational leader who can clearly communicate your vision, goals and expectations, and inspire others to achieve them.

Dedicate time for reflection. Schedule a certain amount of time every day to identify essentials and focus on priorities. This can be time spent alone in your office, while travelling or meditating – whatever works best for you.

Schedule weekly check-ins with your team to find out how things are going and to clarify direction. Ask them how you’re doing in providing clarity.

Continually refine your verbal and written communications. Try out different words, images and stories to help others picture what you see. Strive to reduce ambiguity and to simplify every conversation, presentation, written communication. If you aren’t achieving the response you want from employees or team members, ask a coach to help you build your communication competence.

Confusion undermines high performance. As a leader, you must be able to simplify the complex and clarify it for others so they can do their part to achieve what you expect. David Scholz offers a helpful suggestion: “Make being clear part of your personal brand.”

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