Clarity: Your First Priority
The following is an exclusive excerpt from the new book Leverage: A Leader’s Answer to Extraordinary Results, by SUCCESS columnist Tony Jeary—The Results Guy—a strategist and advisor of top organizations and high achievers around the world.
Focus is not something that comes naturally; it is a skill that must be developed. But before you can begin developing focus as a skill, you first must be clear on what you need to focus upon. For those of you who have read my book Strategic Acceleration, this chapter will be powerful reinforcement on the importance of clarity and vision from the very beginning. For those who haven’t, let me assure you that clarity is the place to start.
So, what is it you really want? What do you want professionally? Personally? For your family? What’s your vision for your life? Knowing this is what I mean by clarity.
Let me share the definition of clarity I used in Strategic Acceleration. From a leadership perspective, clarity means having an unfettered view of your vision, which is what you want and why you want it, fed by an understanding of its purpose and value. In the old days, executives didn’t see any need to explain the why. They simply expected people to fall in line and do what they were told. But when people understand the why of things (the purpose and value), the combination produces a level of clarity that has enough influence or pull to actually become motivational. It becomes the fuel of voluntary change that enables you to be pulled toward your vision, rather than pushed.
Most don’t have this definition of clarity and react to a discussion of clarity with reluctance to believe. Surely, business and professional people know what their vision is. Yet every week executive teams come to my private studio in Dallas with only a vague idea of their vision—if that.
Organizations whose executives have a clear vision are easy to find. Each year Inc. magazine publishes a list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in the United States. The list is filled with companies of all sizes working across all industries. One of the most important attributes they have in common is a clear vision of what they want to be and accomplish. I have had the pleasure of helping many of these fastest-growing organizations to implement these methodologies in the past.
Companies with a complete lack of vision struggle at best; and in worst-case scenarios, they fail altogether.
I’ve worked with many companies in the direct sales industry. Companies who allow individual representatives to share their products, and who are rewarded for doing so. Almost every company that does this encourages their new representatives to identify their “why.” Why are they choosing to share these products in their spare time? Why do they want to earn some extra income? Why are they willing to make sacrifices to make it all happen? These companies understand the importance of clarifying the “why” with this volunteer army. When people identify their “why”—things like spending more time with their family, getting out of debt, or creating avenues to explore their passions—the ability to say no to those things that don’t help make their “why” happen becomes so much easier and sustaining. It’s a principle that works in any industry, to be honest.
Of course, most companies have some idea of what their vision is, but it is often fuzzy and their management teams are often divided or uncertain. Because of that, their employees and team members are often confused and focus on mere tasks due to a lack of clarity on the bigger picture. This often results in lackluster performance and high turnover.
What most executive teams do have are goals. Unfortunately these goals tend to be driven by each team member’s personal agenda and politics, placing the goals all over the map without true alignment. For example, the CFO is concerned with cutting costs and risk. The COO is driven by getting the product out the door. The marketing crew wants to drive sales and will push for service improvements, financing options, more product features, or bigger sales teams. The IT contingent will lament they can only do so much so fast. The goals are all ad hoc and don’t necessarily contribute to an overriding vision.
The first thing I do in the studio is to get a team to set aside goals and focus on their vision. We can spend half of our time on that because it is half the battle. Usually everyone has a slightly different idea of a vision and often they disagree over what a “vision” really is; but over time and with facilitated discussion, they arrive at an “aha” moment with heads nodding in agreement. From that point forward, it is all clear sailing.
Let me assure you it is no different for small organizations than it is for large, multinational corporations. I have worked with many of both and they all have the same issues. If there is no clarity of vision, the best that can be hoped for is far less than is possible. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my efforts day in and day out to be less than is possible.
It is important to note that clarity of vision is more than a well-thought-out and written vision statement to go in the company handbook, posted on a website, or tacked on the cafeteria wall. It has to be concrete.
From a leadership perspective, there must be some basic rules for achieving your vision:
1. The vision must be realistic. It is wonderful to say you want to be number one in your market in two years; but if you have 4 percent of the market share today, no one will take your vision seriously.
2. You have to have the resources to achieve the vision. This book is about getting far more from existing resources through a particular strategy. But there are limits. Just like a rubber band, if you ask your resources to stretch too far, they can snap.
3. A defined timeframe is also necessary. Saying you want to realize your vision without a timeframe makes progress virtually impossible to measure; and what you cannot measure, you cannot manage.
4. The timeframe has to be meaningful and within reach to the people engaged. Ten-year goals won’t inspire anyone, because they are just too far in an uncertain future to be real.
5. Understand the benefits of achieving your vision. Your vision also needs to have obvious rewards for everyone who is involved in making it a reality.
Now let me shift gears for just a moment. What works for organizations works for individuals, too. Clarity of vision, as we defined earlier—an understanding of what you really want in life—is an absolute prerequisite for success, however you define it. If you as an individual don’t know what you really want, you can count on never having it.
Isn’t the success of your family unit just as important or more important than your success with the vision in your professional life? I have lived a life by design within my household and it has given me a personal life that some can only dream about. We have a family vision. We set goals together. We spend quality time together. We are aligned. We are clear with each other. We make adjustments when needed.
All of the principals in Leverage can be applied to your personal life as well to make sure you are spending the right time on the things that matter most. Remember, exploiting leverage means to use for maximum advantage. Isn’t that what we all want—to get the maximum possible outcome, both personally and professionally?