Successful Leadership Depends on Developing Clarity


William WillimonWhile I was interviewing United Methodist Bishop William Willimon (read the interview at Monday Morning Email April 12, 2010 *), we explored the value of clarity for leaders in any field. Even though he was defining the issue for church leaders, I find it is a universal issue.

Here’s the part of the interview that deals with clarity:

Willimon: One of my Cabinet members, a District Superintendent who is retired military, brings a perspective from the military. If, while we do our work, I can like you, great. If, while we are doing our work, I can respect you, great. But, we’re all clear, none of that is as important as getting the mission accomplished.

Ballou: Absolutely! It supports the first piece we were talking about, clarity in the vision.

Willimon: I was just thinking about that. I love your stress on clarity. This week, this is my thing – clarity. I’ve just read a good book by Bill Brosen, The Preaching of Jesus: Gospel Proclamation, Then and Now. And Bill says there, that when he listens to sermons, the biggest problem is clarity, just simple clarity. You can’t figure out what the preacher is talking about. Bill says that it’s a kind of theological problem and a sense of decision not being able to say, “I’m going to go with this, I’m not going to go with that.” Expanding that to leadership in the church, I’d say that one of the problems we have in the church is that we have these ridiculous broad, multi-faceted expectations – “increase of love of God and neighbor, we want to have a loving, caring congregation, you can just feel the love, we want to welcome newcomers who may threaten that, but we also want to change the world and transform America into a Christian society, we also want to challenge sin when we see it…” It’s a recipe for never accomplishing anything and never feeling that God has done something good through us. So, therefore, clarity becomes a huge thing – what is it that you most want to do?

To read the entire interview, go to the interview at Monday Morning Email April 12, 2010.*

In my work with entrepreneurs, church leaders, leaders of nonprofits, and leaders in the corporate world, I find similar issues holding leaders back from achieving their dreams – lack of clarity. Clarity comes in many forms. All these forms of clarity are written. Yes, it must be written down to be clear. Otherwise, your thoughts will continue expanding, changing, or moving forward in an uncontrolled and unclear manner. In fact, if your goals are not written down, then they are still in the dream phase. Dreams are essential to building a vision, however, at some point the dream must be written down in order to facilitate effective implementation. An unwritten goal is simply – a dream.

Clarity brings you to a state of knowing. You begin with believing that your vision will be reality. In creating documents, you move from simply believing to knowing – an essential step! If leaders work with teams (committees, boards, staff, etc.), the importance of written documents goes to a higher level of importance. Strategic plans fail about 95% of the time in the implementation stage – the plan is completed, but nothing, or little, happens.

As documents are created, clarity comes to the leader. Clarity in the final result – clarity in the steps to get to the result – clarity in the sequence of the steps to get to the result – clarity in the actions needed from team members. All of these are essential to effective results. The documents to be created include Statement of Core Values, Definition of Long-Term Objectives, Development of Short-Term Goals, and Creation and Implementation of Action Plans for the Goals.

For more information on creating clarity with effective documents, see my book,

Building High Performance Teams:
Systems and Structures for Leading Teams and Empowering Transformation HERE

Create your own clarity today by defining the end results you want to achieve, and defining a way to get there.

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This is a repost and revision of an April 2010 article.

Hugh Ballou

The Transformational Leadership Strategist TM

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