Clarity or Confusion – it’s a choice we can all make

Leadership Blog  |  3 minute read

Mike Straw

Written by Mike Straw

Clarity or Confusion – it’s a choice we can all make

As Genesis sang way back in 1986 – This is a land of confusion. Daily commentary in the media, around the kitchen table and, until lockdown, in the pub has been dominated by themes of confusion. What’s allowed and what’s not, who can you see, where can you shop? The COVID-19 pandemic has created a deluge of new rules, expected behaviours and social norms. Confusion has become the easy headline to write and the popular meme to subscribe to. But are we being honest with ourselves when we claim to be confused, or are we committed to not understanding for other reasons?

Leaders communicating at times of dramatic change, whether as Prime Ministers and Presidents, or as CEOs, managers or heads of teams must understand that clarity or confusion is often a choice. Most of us, most of the time, are able to use our innate intelligence and common sense to find and commit to a narrative that gives structure to the world around us. It is a fundamental human characteristic to find patterns and stories that allow us to make sense of the ambiguity that is part of life.

But sometimes we actively choose confusion because it suits us better than trying to understand. It may be because clarity clashes with our commitment to other goals, perhaps even unconsciously. We don’t like the rules and so pretend not to understand them. We don’t believe in the shared mission, so feign confusion to delay the project.

Faced with these misaligned commitments and passive resistance to finding clarity in difficult times, leaders should take three steps to equip teams, organisations and constituencies to choose clarity over confusion.

 

Empathise

Acknowledging that changing circumstances and reactions to them are creating uncertainty, doubt and even fear is the essential first step. Often decisions and actions necessary to accomplish important things do make life difficult for those in the midst of change. Showing that you understand helps build connectivity. By demonstrating real empathy rather than playing down concerns, or even trying to solve them, leaders are seen to be walking in the same shoes as their teams. Creating a spirit of solidarity and a focus on a common goal creates the environment for individuals to hear and heed the little voice in their heads urging them to find clarity.

 

Enrol

From empathy leaders will build commitment. They need demonstrate to people the importance of the mission. Building shared responsibility is easy when everyone sees and appreciates a clear and common danger. But, in real life, as even COVID has demonstrated, peoples’ opinions differ around the importance of goals. Enrolment into a shared commitment to a goal is vital to equip teams to choose clarity and leaders must clearly articulate why the goal matters in language that resonates with everyone.

 

Call it Out!

Finally, make it clear that being confused is a choice. Call it out! Those that have misaligned commitments can choose the low-responsibility path by deciding to remain confused. A good leader will shoulder 100% of the responsibility for the project but will also create opportunities for others to match that commitment. Those who are willing to step-up and do so will make the decision to find clarity and move forward.  

 

Listen to your little voice

The role of the leader should not be to try and dispel confusion, but to equip their teams with the power to commit to clarity. We each have a little voice in our heads that guides us to what we believe to be right. By showing empathy, enrolling people into a common commitment to an agreed outcome and then giving them the choice, leaders are creating the space for everyone to listen to that little voice.

Finding clarity often involves the enquiry into all the different aspects of the change, the messages, initiatives, programmes and finding the connectivity between them – through this process of connection and enquiry the narrative and clarity emerges – similar to those magic eye puzzles that you had to stare and compute before the image emerged!

Human beings have evolved to deal with ambiguity. We seek clarity, structure and narrative to help make sense of confusing things around us. Competing commitments can lead us to trap ourselves in a land of confusion, but a good leader will create the context in which we can make the decision to build clarity. As Phil Collins may have said:

“…these are the hands we're given, (Oh, oh, oh)

Use them and let's start trying, (Oh, oh, oh)

To make it a place worth living in.”

This is what our little voice wants us to do.

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