Five Negative Effects of Failing to Create Clarity

AdVance Leadership » Five Negative Effects of Failing to Create Clarity

Welcome to Friday 411, issue #034. In 4 minutes, with 1 insight and 1 action, you’ll understand the significant consequences of not creating Clarity. 

1 Insight

Leaders often fail to create and cascade Clarity. This failure hurts your team’s results and their confidence in your ability to lead them.

Imagine you’re driving down the road at 75 miles per hour with your family in the car. One of your kids dares you to close your eyes and keep driving. Would you do it? Of course not. You would never take that kind of risk with your family.

But, every day, most people show up to work feeling like they’re driving blind. According to a Gallup survey, 78% of employees don’t believe that their leaders have a clear direction for the organization. Nearly 8 out of 10 employees arrive at work unsure of the direction of the company.  They wonder if they are doing what it takes to head in the right direction while uncertain of where the company is headed. These employees receive paychecks and spend company resources while merely guessing if any of their efforts are contributing to highest priorities.

Over our years of working with leaders, we’ve seen a common mistake: leaders don’t take the time to create and cascade Clarity. Clarity happens when every person in the company knows where you’re going, how you’re getting there, what each person’s role is in getting there, and why it’s important.

Five Effects of Poor Clarity

If you fail to create and cascade Clarity, you will experience five negative effects:

Effect #1: Slowed Productivity

Productivity is about accomplishment, not activity. The number of hours people work is far less important than how much they accomplish in the time they’re working.

A lack of Clarity slows down productivity in your company for two reasons:

  1. People waste time trying to figure out what’s most important.  

If you as the leader don’t tell them what’s important, they’re left to guess about it. Chances are, they’ll  guess incorrectly.

Several years ago, I (Garland) consulted with a team of 15 Executive Leaders. At one point in the day, I had each person take out a Post-It note. I asked them to write down the highest priority for the company. Then, every person read aloud their answer. There were 14 different answers represented by the 15 people.

These leaders were wasting their time and the time of everyone they influenced trying to figure out what was most important.

 2. People waste time on lower value tasks.  

Employees can’t manage time well if they don’t have Clarity. Cal Newport’s Principle of Least Resistance states, “In a business setting, without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, people tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment” (Deep Work, 58).

If the people in your company aren’t clear about the organizational priorities, they will default to doing whatever is easiest.

  • They’ll check email instead of planning for the future.
  • They’ll avoid conflict instead of wrestling through key issues together.
  • They’ll take on lower value projects that distract them from their most important work.

Effect #2: Hesitant Decisions

Our daughter is deciding on which college she would like to attend. Every day, she gets multiple flyers from colleges inviting her to apply. Rather than slogging through thousands of pamphlets, we worked with her to identify her criteria for selecting a college. She identified a handful of criteria that are important to her. Whenever she gets a pamphlet, she compares the college to her priorities and quickly determines if she is interested.

According to Eva Krockow, lecturer at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, the average person makes 35,000 decisions per day. Many of those decisions take place in your business. And business moves fast. You don’t have a lot of time to hesitate when making decisions. Clarity provides the catalyst to not only make faster decisions but also to make better ones.

Effect #3: Shaken Confidence

Have you ever gotten to the end of your workday and wondered if you actually accomplished anything important? This feeling shakes your confidence. It leaves you wondering if you’re contributing anything to the company. It makes you feel insignificant.

A lack of Clarity has the same effect on everyone in your company. Without Clarity, people struggle to know if they’re achieving anything meaningful. This leads to disengagement and low retention.

Clarity builds your team’s confidence by helping them see how their actions contribute to a bigger goal.

Effect #4: Broken Trust

Without Clarity, you change priorities constantly. When you do this, it reduces the team’s trust in your leadership.

Earlier in our lives, we followed a church leader who would change priorities every few months. He would declare a big vision. He got people excited about it, but progress would always take longer than he expected. So, he would blame someone on the team, typically fire that person, and then change the vision.

The first few times this happened, people gave this pastor the benefit of the doubt. But eventually, he lost the trust of many people (including us). Whenever he would declare a new vision, people politely smiled but ignored him. Over time, many people in the congregation left.

He did not create consistent Clarity. Instead, he caused chaos by changing visions, which bred distrust.

Effect #5: Frustrating Disengagement

Frederich Nietzsche once said, “He who has a why to live for, can bear with almost any how.”

According to Gallup, 86% of people are disengaged or actively disengaged in work. Employees wonder why they’re working so hard. They fail to understand the why behind the how due to a lack of Clarity. When they lack Clarity, frustration grows and disengagement festers.

When you connect their daily actions to a much bigger vision, it increases engagement and even enjoyment of work.

The Seven Types of Clarity

A few years ago, several of our clients were struggling to create Clarity. As we worked to help them, we discovered that there are actually seven types of Clarity that leaders need to create:

  1. Purpose – why does our company exist and what do we value?
  2. Profits – how do we make, lose, and spend money?
  3. Priorities – what is most important for us to accomplish in the future?
  4. Plans – who needs to do what by when to accomplish those priorities?
  5. People – what are the roles we need to complete those plans?
  6. Processes – what repeatable processes and systems do we need to move our work forward?
  7. Problems – what are the problems that are blocking us from accomplishing our priorities?

Since making that discovery, we’ve observed that leaders ignore Priorities most. They fail to identify the single most important goal that the organization must accomplish. This oversight makes it impossible to develop plans, hire the right people, create processes, and determine which problems to solve.

What It Takes to Create Clarity

If you’re going to create and cascade Clarity, it will take three ingredients:

  1. Time. Clarity doesn’t simply appear in your mind. It takes time to get clear on what’s most important and to decide what isn’t important any longer. You need Capacity in your schedule to create Clarity.
  2. Imagination. To get clear about the future, you have to imagine what your organization could become. You must think years down the road and envision something that doesn’t already exist.
  3. Communication. Clarity can’t simply exist in your mind. It must work its way out of your head, through your mouth, into their ears and minds. In fact, Clarity doesn’t exist until every person on the team understands.

1 Action

Carve out time in the next week to identify your single highest priority for your team or organization in the next one to three years.


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