I recently talked with a client about his frustration with his boss, who he really admires. When I heard what he described and realized that his frustration stemmed from lack of vision, I shared my belief that most leaders are unintentionally playing a game of “you’re getting warmer, you’re getting colder” when it comes to purpose, vision, and values (especially vision).

My client is a self-motivated, goal-oriented achiever who wants to be aligned with the organization. Isn’t this the kind of employee every leader wants on their team? It’s really hard for my client not to understand where his leader wants his team to go. He says that the only way to know is to try stuff and see how this leader reacts to it. Sometimes he’s getting warmer, which feels good and hopeful. But all too often, it’s a frustrating and embarrassing version of, “No, that’s not what we’re doing. He’s getting colder.

I believe this is very common; much more common and much less functional than creating clarity around purpose, vision, and values. And here is why I believe a lack of clarity around these things is so common:

Successful leaders are often very intuitive. They have a sense of what will work and what won’t, but that sense doesn’t bubble up until they’re in the moment. With hard work, and often with someone like a coach to pull clarity out of them, they can turn that intuition into clear and consistent thoughts. This is a tough and sometimes painful journey from the gut to the head (turning intuition into clear thinking).

When helping someone to gain this clarity (or when I work on it for myself and Leading by DESIGN) I’ll ask questions about how to describe, in a few words, what they want, or where they want to be in a year or more, or how to let customers know what they can do for them.

When responding to these questions, a client will often respond with, “Oh, that would be hard to say.” Exactly! “That would be hard” often stops a person from going further. Now if they have a bulldog coach in front of them, or maybe someone else who plays that role, they will persist and do the hard work.

After saying it would be hard, a client will often look at me to see if we’ll just move on. But I let them know this isn’t a rhetorical question; I really do want you to answer it, even if an answer will be hard to find. It might take a half hour or more of listening, asking questions, and mental pain. But usually they can get to a place where there is more clarity.

I suppose if you are a lone ranger in your work, this lack of clarity might not be so dysfunctional, though I still think doing the hard work of turning intuition into clear thought is worth the effort so you can plan your work and work your plan. But when a leader isn’t a lone ranger—when this person is leading others—it’s very dysfunctional not to have created the clarity needed to share your purpose, vision, and values with others.

How are you doing at the hard work of creating clarity around purpose, vision, and values?

After the hard work of figuring out what your gut is telling you so it can be captured in thoughts, now comes the next hard thing; to turn those thoughts into effective communication so others understand them.

This is the hard work of going from the brain to words, actions and decisions. Let me say this again, this is hard work. Most leaders don’t spend time doing this hard work. Instead they do all of the other work that keeps them SUPER BUSY with overfunctioning and telling their people “you’re getting colder, or “you’re getting warmer.”

If turning thoughts into effective words wasn’t hard enough, you’ll remember from LEAD 24/7 that important messages need to be communicated several times in several ways. You might recall the expression, seven times/seven ways. This means that once you get it into words, you have to figure out the many ways to get those words into the team’s psyche. This will be done through words, decisions, actions, and behaviors. You may recall one of my favorite expressions: “I can’t hear what you’re saying because your actions speak too loud.”

The good news is that this hard work has a great return on investment! Your people will know where they’re going, and they won’t have to ask you so many questions. (Of course you’ll have to train your ego to be okay with that!) They will be aligned and pulling in the same direction, which creates great momentum. They won’t be frustrated with your lack of clarity and will have more energy and passion for the work and the team. Winning in this way is great fun and the results are so much better!

All of this only requires hard work to create and communicate clarity AND the willingness not to be the center of it all as the grand master of “you’re getting warmer, you’re getting colder.”

We would love to talk with you about this if we can be helpful. Either way, do it. This is one of the simple but hard things that will make West Michigan leaders a cut above the rest and make our region the hotbed of the best leaders in the country.

Thanks for going after it this week!

Image by Tom Mrazek. Used under CC by 2.o license.