Where do we turn so that we and our team can make our way forward through the fog?
We continue to explore the five connected Fluencies that make up The New Language of Leadership. Today, we focus on Clarity.
This world in which we live and work is uncertain. It has been for a long while, which we can now see with the rhetorical gift of hindsight. But never since 2020 has it been as pervasive and unsettling. We’ve seen the fog of uncertainty before, but never as dense and firm as now. Like a damp and thick Scottish night, you can barely see your hand at the end of your outstretched arm as you reach for something to hang on to.
So how do we lead in uncertainty? Where do we turn so that we and our team can make our way forward through the fog?
We need to understand that clarity is not certainty. We have to grow our capacity for clarity and let go of certainty. And we need to lean into ourexisting strengths, grow new strengths, and operate with a higher sense of clarity to navigate the uncertainand tumultuous future.
The underlying challenge is that in times of uncertainty, we crave the feeling of safety and comfort that certainty provides. Our brains and our bodies have a hard-wired desire for it. But there is no certainty. The fundamental reframe we offer is that the antidote for the negativity of uncertainty comes through the evergreen and lasting power of clarity. It sticks, it lasts longer, and it fortifies everything we do as leaders.
This arresting quote is the catalyst for this insight.
The future will reward clarity, but punish certainty.”
Bob Johansen – The New Leadership Literacies
Written in 2017, these are the stark and poignant words that anchor this insight. As we move forward, our reliance on predetermined outcomes, expectations, and past patterns as the predictor for the future will knock us down every time.
What’s The Difference Between Clarity and Certainty?
Once again, certainty is not clarity.
Clarity is what you know now. It’s shaped and earned through experience, reflection, self-awareness, conversation, and often lots of failures. We can identify clarity though things we identify as truths (not facts), insights (not opinions), and values (not trends).
Certainty states what the outcome will be.Neuroscientists have a term for certainty – it’s called “knowing we know.”It creates a definitive and fixed mindset that often leads us to be brutally wrong, with consequences we can never fully predict nor comprehend. It leads us into the fog without having our bearings.
Clarity is multi-purpose and able to shift to serve the purpose we need it for. Certainty is rigid and firm. Under pressure, certainty simply snaps and falls to pieces.
Clarity gets us future-ready and has a self-generating power we can tap into. Certainty has a shelf life and an expiry date that can creep up on you like the jug of milk at the back of the fridge.
How Do You Operate With Clarity As A Leader?
The first step is to identify when you are stuck on something. You are frozen, you can’t see what’s next, and you can’t move forward. More often than not, it’s because you’re stuck in a state of certainty. By asking yourself the critical question, “What am I clear about in this moment?” we create the impetus to get unstuck and get back into a state of action.
The next move is about your vision. A leader’s role is to communicate where we are going and why we should go there…to outline the desired destination without a defined map or set of instructions. That requires clarity. It doesn’t include the certainty of exactly how you are going to get there. So as a leader, you should be constantly restating and reaffirming your vision for your organization and your team, especially right now. The process of clarifying and communicating vision forces you to get to language and insights that are grounded in clarity.
A third step, which is something that requires vulnerability, is for leaders to be clear about what they don’t know. The honesty and transparency that comes from this stance is immensely powerful. It allows leaders the ability to let go of always being right and always having the answer. And the natural flow of the conversation when facing what we don’t know something is very often, “but this is what we know...”
How Do We Find Clarity As Leaders?
Among the five Fluencies in the New Language of Leadership, clarity is likely the most elusive and most challenging to tackle. However, it’s the one that unlocks the most for leaders who are brave enough to pursue it. Here’s a simple framework that can give you some signposts to look out for as you venture towards clarity.
Getting to clarity starts with ourselves. It requires the affirmation (often daily) of what we know to be true, the importance of our core values, and where we find our sources of confidence and purpose. It requires a level of courage that can only be formed from within.
To give you a boost in the pursuit of clarity, you need to lean on and into those people you trust. Seek input from other sources helps hone your vision and validate (or refute) what you know right now – it’s the sanity check we all need to identifyblindspots and consider other perspectives. All we have to do as leaders is to listen to that input, and we’ll be armed to advance.
The evolved leader has the confidence to move forward with clarity but is also humble enough to know they are flawed, imperfect, and in a constant state of learning.We may not get it right, we will run into obstacles, and we’ll need to switch gears.Themore humble you are, the more human you are, the more flexible you are. Out of that, you’ll gain clarity.
We leave you with these questions to carry forward:
Where do you have clarity now? How can you embrace it to help you move forward?
Who can be your thought-partners to give you input and help you get to clarity?
Which strengths willyou need to lean into so you can face this continued uncertainty?