For teams to execute strategy brilliantly, a leader must be clear. Clear about the vision (the direction). Clear about the strategy (the way to move closer toward the vision) in a way that each person can understand the role they play to brilliantly execute that strategy. Clear about the purpose (why the company exists) and how the strategy aligns with this purpose.
One leader who inspired others, and connected to them with his communication in an actionable way, was Steve Jobs former CEO of Apple.
What stands out in this video, and what Jobs is well known for, is how clearly he communicates and how he emphasizes the importance of clear communication. This is what Clarity, which I simply define as Getting Clear & Being Clear, is about. Jobs is “Being clear” in his communication with his internal team, he is helping them “Get clear” about the vision, purpose and strategy (in this case for marketing), and he is also modeling how they might “Be clear” in their communication to the market.
Do you think that Getting Clear & Being Clear will support better decision-making? That is, decisions that are nimble (keep the company moving forward) and offer the clear direction that helps ensure brilliant execution of that decision? Exactly, yes!
Creating a “great” strategy is similar to making a “great” decision. Can you think of any decision that over time you look back on and say, “That was a great decision!” without actions being taken after the decision that made it “great?” A strategy may be great, but if not executed well—if the results are not as desired—then you are back to the start (or worse).
Results matter. As a leader you must communicate in a way that focuses the heads and hearts of people on their best next steps they can take to execute strategy and move, together, toward a shared vision.
Sometimes it is you and your leadership team who lack Clarity. You can’t always be clear, but you can adjust how you communicate with those who need to execute. And you can empower them to help everyone including you become more clear over time.
Apple lost Clarity between 1985 and 1996 and was no longer executing in alignment with the company’s “To keep things simple” brand promise. Complexity crept in. Products proliferated. Quality slipped.
When Jobs returned in December 1996 Apple was in a death spiral. Sales and market share were falling precipitously. Expenses were ballooning out of control. Departments battled one another. Some of the former CEO’s top managers were in denial; many of the most talented were leaving. The outcomes of the lack of Clarity were showing up as early as 1991 with a decline in profitability.
Upon Jobs’ return to Apple, he immediately focused himself and prepared to orchestrate a Pivot: from a proliferation of products that revealed the impact of a lack of focus on design or quality, to a focus on fewer products built with great design and quality in mind. His message to the team, “You are bright people. You shouldn’t be wasting your time on crappy products.” Perhaps you would choose different words. My point is that the company—and any successful company—places a high priority on Clarity. Getting clear and being clear.