Leadership Clarity: Facing Fears and Uncertainty

How do leaders transform organizational fears and uncertainties into a spirited commitment for a better future? How to we get people to enthusiastically embrace a vision in spite of insecurities and fluctuating conditions?

Anthropologists and scientists identify five basic fears that are universal, each of which correlates with a basic need:

Correlated Need
Death (our own and our family’s) Security
The outsider Community
The future Clarity
Chaos Authority
Insignificance Respect

(Source: Donald E. Brown in Human Universals (1991))

Of all of these universal fears and needs, the most essential one leaders must confront is fear of the future. Senior management and leadership teams are continually challenged by unknown factors from competitors, the economy, technology, and changing customer needs.

Even armed with a strong ego and enduring optimism, a leader faces complexities and uncertainties. Their success depends on finding a way to engage employees’ fear of the unknown and transforming it into a commitment to a vision for a better future.

Clarity is the tool used to accomplish this: clear leadership communications.  A great leader must define the future in vivid terms and through actions, images and exemplary heroes that allow others to see clearly where they are headed. Clarity is the antidote to anxiety.

When I’m coaching executives in organizations, we talk a lot about fears. How can leaders face them, define them, and communicate with clarity to increase their leadership effectiveness?

Most leaders are skilled at distilling and dissecting complexity to find clarity. How do you refine this talent and increase your capacity to fulfill your leadership roles?

All leaders develop certain disciplines to help them achieve greater clarity. Here are a few suggestions from author Marcus Buckingham:

“Effective leaders don’t have to be passionate. They don’t have to be charming. They don’t have to be brilliant…They don’t have to be great speakers. What they must be is clear. Above all else, they must never forget the truth that of all the human universals – our need for security, for community, for clarity, for authority, and for respect— our need for clarity… is the most likely to engender in us confidence, persistence, resilience, and creativity.”

—Marcus Buckingham, The One Thing You Need to Know:…About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success (Free Press, 2005)

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