One of the key factors that helps leaders to be effective is clarity. Being UNclear is a huge detriment to your leadership and service. You’ve done it. I’ve done it. ‘It’ being seeking to achieve a goal and wanting to get my people there without being clear on the end result or the process.

The Busselton Jetty is one of my many favourite spots on the planet. 1.8 kilometres out to sea, it is the longest wood-piled jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. Photography by my old friend, Phil Hollett. You can view more of his gorgeous photography and purchase prints at

Early on in learning to work with and lead others, I realised that the clearer I was about the kind of standard and expectation that I wanted someone to work towards – for myself, included – the better the outcome. And I’ve seen that repeated again and again with leaders I’ve worked for, those I’ve observed from afar, and those I’ve coached and helped to achieve greater levels of success.

Like the photo of the Busselton Jetty above, you know that clarity increases the closer you get to your subject or goal. The farther away you are, the more difficult it is to make out the detail, even if the overall picture is sublime. The challenge of a leader, manager and one who seeks to help others achieve a goal is that the clearer you can make out that goal or objective, the easier it is for others to work out how to get there.

In fact, as I was saying to one leader in an organisation the other day, the clearer you are on what you want to achieve, the clearer you will be on how to achieve it.

And that clarity is often what’s missing for the people who work for and with us, those who learn from us and from those we serve.

7 Ways to Increase Your Clarity

1. Get As Close to Your Subject As Possible

The closer you get, the easier it is to make out details. That’s why personal investigations of situations are immensely valuable. And please, don’t just rely on ‘big data’ – that’s what planners do who mess up whole cities. Go in and investigate qualitatively.

2. Ask Others for Details You Miss

Sometimes your eyes can’t make out the details. You need someone else to have a look for you, someone who may know what to look for and have the equipment to do it. I know a farmer who, when he was in his 60s, could pick out a pesky bird in a tree at 100 metres and shoot it out of the branches with one shot. I couldn’t even see the bird until it landed at the trunk of the tree. Leaders know how to gather people around them like that to help them see clearly.

3. Go On An Expedition

It’s amazing how many leaders adopt a bunker mentality. They sit comfy with their tabular data, their meetings and their reports and never find out what’s going on. I’ve witnessed leaders be utterly amazed at what things were really like on the front line, once they got out and went on expedition. It transformed their thinking and their approach. Think “Undercover Boss” and you get an idea of how this works.

4. Imagine and Remember

Our imaginations are one of the most powerful tools in our leadership arsenal. Every exec and every leader should devote time every day to remembering how things were and what it was like for you, picturing how things now are and imagining the details of what could be.

5. Use Tools to Help You Focus

A camera with a zoom lens and time exposure will help bring out enormous detail in a scene. The same with the various tools at your disposal: qualitative investigations, data analysis, specialists, technologies, your people, great ideas, creative experiences, collaborative events and approaches, great consultants, great coaches (call me if you need one 🙂 ). Use these to modify, clarify and build explicit detail into a collective vision or approach that people will understand and be able to use.

6. Be Explicit – Paint A Picture With Words and Visuals

Frankly, most leaders fail in this, simply because they are not clear and they describe things ambiguously:

“I want you to make things better”, they say. Or, “Get that budget under control!” Or “Run a Continuous Improvement Project”

But how should things be better? In what way? Specifically? Where? With whom?

What are the priorities that the budget must still accommodate? What strategic direction? How do we want budget to support our goal?

What are the specific objectives of the project? What would like to see and experience differently at the end of it? What would it look, sound and feel like?

When you give direction, when you request follow-through, when you set a purpose, be explicit – as much as that other person needs at their level – so that we are all clear on what is needed.

Use language – the power of diction, imagery, metaphor and explicit detail – to paint a picture. And use a picture to show someone what you mean, where a thousand words would never work.

You know those Michael Bay films where everyone says, “Are we clear?” “Crystal, Sir!” Let’s make sue that’s true of our direction and vision.

7. Put Yourself In The Other’s Position

“I think my eyes are getting better. Instead of a big dark blur, I see a big light blur.” – Han Solo, Return of the Jedi

This is my last point for now. Leaders need to move beyond seeing a big light blur and increase their focus, their attention and the clarity of their vision. They also need to work with the people around them to make this vision as clear as possible. That means that they’re not always the ones with the best vision, and need to rely on others’ ability to see what they can’t. Han had Luke, Chewie and Lando to help him see. Whom do you have to help you see?

But you also need to change your position, move around the barriers of your own mind and perception, and put yourself in someone else’s place, if you truly want to be clear.

That doesn’t mean that you have to change ideas just for others’ sake, but it does mean that you will have the clarity you need to help everyone be successful.

There are many more ways to achieve and to express clarity. How do you see more clearly? What are examples where this has gone rightly or wrongly around you? Leave a comment.
© 2015 Peter J. McLean. I am an expert in leadership, communication, performance and more. I partner with clients to improve their condition – individual and organisational. Follow me at Visit our websites at, and
“Instead of a big dark blur, I see a big light blur”: Why Leaders Need Clarity

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