(Influential Leadership) Leadership Communication: The Clarity Test

Explaining Chart On Whiteboard
               Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

Here is the 2nd of “The Four Factors For Superlative Leadership Communication.”


Specifically, what can you do as a leader to minimize direct reports missing the mark on an assignment?


Last week we covered the first factor: attach a deadline to your  request.  Now let’s move on to factor #2.


Factor #2: Make sure your request passes The Clarity Test


A big mistake leaders make is what I call “muddy communication.”  Requests may be clear in the leaders mind, but to their followers they are vague and subject to much interpretation.


For example, I asked a CEO for a list of mission critical goals that she wanted her leadership team to achieve. I was surprised when I saw one of the goals was one word: “Communicate.” This activity can have hundreds, or even thousands, of meanings – because it is too vague.


Now I’m sure every leader on her team probably feels they are exceeding expectations on this goal (after all, they can probably define “communicate” any way they want). But from the CEO’s perspective, this team was not communicating well. Now I wonder, whose fault is that?


The Test for Clarity


A request, assignment or goal is clear if there can be no disagreement about whether it has been accomplished or achieved. For example, let’s say you tell your direct report, “Brian, this week I want you to work on Project X. Make sure to make it a priority.” As a leader, you may feel you have done a great job being clear about how Brian spends his time.


Let’s look at this. It’s true, Brian should know to work on this project above any other. But it’s not really clear as to what “work on” entails. How much progress is required to achieve this? How will Brian know he’s completed this task?


This type of muddy communication happens more often than you would think. It can lead to frustration for everyone. The leader is frustrated because not enough was done or maybe the wrong things were done. The direct report is frustrated because they thought they were doing what they were asked.


A clearer request may look something like this:


“Brian, we really need to make some significant progress on Project X this week. Here’s what I would like to see: by the end of the week we should have a complete first draft of the specifications, including details for each component and a section that outlines any possible constraints that could jeopardize the year-end deadline.


To help give you an idea of what format and level of detail I’m expecting, here’s a similar document for Project M done last year. Any questions about what we are trying to do this week? Also, this is a top priority, so let me know immediately if something comes up that might prohibit you delivering this by Friday.”


Now you may not need to have this much detail if you are dealing with an experienced person who has created similar documents before, but typically the more clarity, the better.


Leadership Coaching Challenge:


When you make a request, make sure it passes The Clarity Test. Ask yourself, “is there an objective way of absolutely knowing that this task has been completed?” If not, add more details and specificity to your request.


(Contributed by David C Miller.)

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