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Taking people from here to there: the importance of clarity of direction

An informal definition of leadership is that it’s about taking people on a journey from the present to a specific point in the future. By implication, it means that we need to know where that point is – and where the starting point is for us and the people we’re leading.

The fourth leadership dimension that emerged from my PhD study describes this aspect of leadership exactly. I call it clarity of direction.
In Chapter 6 of my book, The Leader’s Inner Source*, I explain it as follows:
Being able to have and provide clarity of direction requires three things: having a clear vision, sharing it with others and acting optimally in the present to realise the vision.

A recent example from my personal life:
As for most people, the year 2020 had a profound impact on how my wife Trudie and I work.
Trudie works in healthcare, so the pandemic meant more work under more stressful conditions.
The biggest change for me has been the shift to remote work. I did a fair share of work remotely already, especially with my clients outside South Africa. But suddenly, everything was online, and even now, 90% of my work still happens online.

We are even facilitating team interactions online. And as one leader in the DRC told me, he is of the opinion that the online experience we facilitated produced the same benefit as the one we did in person. I miss building personal relationships in person, and I still prioritise doing so where possible. However, remote work also makes it possible to have conversations quicker than if we would have waited for a chance to meet in person, as we would have done before. So I’ve come to embrace it as an enabler.

Trudie’s increased stress and my increased flexibility inspired a new vision for us. We decided that we would sell our family home in Pretoria, move into a smaller place here and buy a second residence along the West Coast close to Cape Town. The plan is that we then spend 3 weeks a month in Pretoria and one week in the Cape.
Trudie would get to unplug for a week each month, and I would be able to continue work as normal – and possibly even make new connections in the Cape Town area.

Though on a small scale, this shift required clarity of direction.
Firstly, we needed to have a clear picture of the future: we knew we wanted to make provision for the next season in our careers and life. Then, we needed to share this vision, with each other and all the people who helped us make it happen or were affected.
Lastly, we had to act optimally in the present to realise the vision. We were excited about the future, but we had to start with where we were at: put our house on the market, identify and make offers on two new properties, pack up the house in which we’ve lived for sixteen years, and settle into not one but two new homes.

On Trudie’s side, she also had to identify and onboard a new partner so that she can detach from her practice one week a month.
All in all, not a small feat.

The advantage we had was that the upside of the vision was very clear for us and for the people from whom we needed buy-in to realise our vision. The timeline to realise the vision was also relatively short. In an organisational context, we don’t always have the luxury of these advantages. It then demands a higher level of skill from us as leaders to get and keep our team on board in the process of leading others to a preferred future.

How to get and keep your team on board
I recently entered into a partnership with Legitimate Leadership. Their leadership model offers some valuable insights which complement the concept of clarity of direction, especially on how to share your vision and realise it with the help of your team.

1) Earn the trust of your team
The entire Legitimate Leadership Model is based on trust. As leaders, we always need to act in the best interest of those we lead to earn their trust, which I will share about more in upcoming blogs.
Your team won’t get excited about your vision if they can’t trust you. As I wrote in Chapter 6 of my book*:
So-called visionary leaders sometimes fail to live up to the ideals of their vision. In pursuit of a noble vision, they often defy everything that vision stands for. Such behaviour breaks trust and creates confusion. The end does not justify the means. How you achieve your vision and how you inspire others through your vision determines the nature of that vision. The people you lead know it intuitively.

To provide clear direction, leaders must live true to their values. They must know what they stand for and uphold it. Their values must be about more than meeting their selfish needs but about providing ethical and unselfish guidance.

2) Empower your team
Our role as leaders is about much more than getting people excited about the vision. We must also equip and enable our team to realise it practically.

Pursuit of a new vision often requires skills that neither we nor those we lead yet have. As leaders, we are responsible for giving them the means to do what is required of them. For example, if they don’t have the skills, what can we do to help them gain those skills?
When people have the means, we are also responsible for keeping them accountable. The Legitimate Leadership Model demands as much of employees as it does of leaders. Both parties are held up to a standard of excellence, which is vital for achieving a worthwhile vision.

3) Learn more
If you are interested to learn more about how to apply these concepts in your leadership context, I co-facilitate a one-day workshop called One Day Executive Overview of the Legitimate Leadership Model, and it covers the following topics:
• Power by permission – the key issue in any relationship of power, like that between an employer and employee, is not price but legitimacy.
• The price of power – care and growth are the universal criteria of any legitimate relationship of power.
• Growth and the incremental suspension of control – the empowerment process enables growth for people who take accountability and are held accountable for what they are entrusted with.
• Generosity, courage and the process of maturation – the product of leadership is not a result but exceptional people.

By Dr. Rean Du Plessis

*Next workshop date 24 August 2021
Contact [email protected] for more information about Dr. Rean, his workshop, or to book a coaching session.