A Recipe for Clarity

The recipe for seeking clarity feels newly relevant as leaders grapple with a market downturn and rapidly changing rules. Teams will seek certainty in the face of layoffs and hiring freezes. Leaders’ blind spots will be amplified as they react in rapidly changing situations. Organizations will make decisions with incomplete information. 

Seeking clarity is an ongoing process of reorientation amidst change, and is focused on ‘sensemaking’: forming a clearer picture of ourselves and our reality, and helping others do the same. 

1. See Reality

Confusion emerges when our expectations and the reality we’re experiencing don’t match. Our brains cling to what we already believe, to help us make sense of what’s happening. Pausing to ask yourself what you’re missing – instead of automatically giving in to those beliefs – creates room for exploration. What isn’t working the way you expected? What narratives are you following to make sense of things, and what facts might point to another interpretation? Where are you assuming, versus actually seeing?

Updating your picture of reality means there’s often much you can’t know. Given the speed at which things are changing, you’re unlikely to attain complete information – and that’s okay. We can make guesses and jump into the unknown, and what matters is how we do it. Seeing reality starts with being humble enough to look squarely at what is confusing you, gathering evidence, and questioning your assumptions.

2. Accept Reality

Most people underestimate the gap between seeing reality and accepting it. Acceptance is a genuine openness to reality, and it doesn’t mean that you’ll like what you see. Rather, it means orienting to both the potential and challenges of what’s happening, rather than distorting it for comfort. In times of uncertainty, leaders are called to walk a narrow path between panic and hubris. This is hard, and there’s plenty you can’t know. Future scenarios you were excited about may be disappearing. Assumptions you relied on may suddenly appear shaky. As scary as it may be, this is the time to double down on being open to reality.

3. Reorient to Goals

Under threat, most people reorient away from their goals toward self-protection. Check in to see if you or those around you have lost sight of their bigger “why.” Focusing on self-protection narrows our field of vision to what we can immediately react to. While this is useful in critical survival situations, it’s detrimental when applied to more complex goals over longer periods of time. Reconnecting to what’s driving you, and your company, gives you a reason to keep learning and is the ultimate source of courage to face the unknown. 

4. Build around the Unknowns

Many of us, regardless of how much experience we have, fall into the trap of thinking our hands are tied until we get more information. When the future feels particularly hard to predict, we can feel paralyzed, and our need for certainty can blind us to how much we can do. What looks like a win no matter what? What capacities can you invest in now that can move you toward achieving goals, even in a volatile future? As a leader, what can you help clarify for others? Helping others orient to what’s possible lays the foundation for achieving goals, even as circumstances change.

5. Look for Opportunities

The bigger the crisis and the greater the uncertainty, the higher the returns on clarity are. If you can refine your ability to see reality, you’ll see more opportunities. What parts of your business could be strengthened by chaos? What “rules of the game” limited what you could do, and how might those be changing? What would it look like to invest in those areas? 

As a leader, protecting against downside may require helping your people reorient to finding the upsides. New challenges contain opportunities for those willing and able to deliver on them. Is this a chance to refine your business model? Deliver services in a new way? Develop internal processes to react more nimbly? We are a resourceful, flexible species, capable of cooperating in novel ways that have allowed us to survive. Uncertain times force us to adapt, and those who do so willingly find opportunities faster.

6. Create Clarity for Others

When we can summon clarity in the face of major confusion, the most impactful thing we can do is help others do the same. Helping your team to see reality, accept it, and begin designing for it through the steps outlined above is what drives organizational success or failure. If you’re a leader, helping your organization reconnect to the mission is critical. As a manager, helping people make sense of their individual confusion is key, especially helping them connect to their own “why” and how things should work in the face of the current landscape. No matter where you sit in your organization, there will be confused people around you. If you’ve put in the work to get clarity yourself, you’re equipped to help others do the same.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for Part II on taking action next week!

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