Your ability to clarify your priorities and communicate them to others increases your chances of success in every area of life.
There’s a ton written about the hows and whys of being intentional and deliberate in business and in life. And rightly so: Being deliberate forces one to “own” a strategy or plan so that all of the tactical to-dos are done for a very clear reason. Being intentional about how one spends time forces a person to make difficult choices about what invitations to accept or refuse, whom to spend time with or not.
The reality is that because we have a limit on our time, we must put a limit on our priorities. This forces the most important to rise to the top of our list.
But so few people do the work to clarify their priorities. Being deliberate is a risk, and you’ll feel as if you’re exposing yourself. But the benefits are massive for leaders on a business and personal level.
Clarity Makes You Credible
The ability to communicate clearly is the result of deliberate, intentional preparation. It also is a predictor of how successful you are in getting people to do what you want them to do.
Scenario #1: How many meetings have you attended in which there was no written agenda or any single priority around which to rally? I see it all the time: A meeting is scheduled by email, a few people show up with nothing prepared, someone begins talking and acknowledges that two of the people who were supposed to attend now cannot because they’re in a different meeting, “but let’s get started and see how far we get.”
This is not the result of deliberate preparation; likely it’s the result of someone-told-someone to have a meeting and get started on this project. Forty-five minutes later, the meeting breaks up and everyone has only a loose idea of what they’re supposed to do next, or even if this project is truly a priority.
How successful is this project going to be? And what are the chances that anyone in that room will claim ownership of the process? This lack of clear priorities and poor preparation translates to a lack of credibility for the project and its leader.
Imagine how different this would be: A division vice president, in charge of a new project with a tight budget and a short deadline, needs his team to execute. He sends an email to 4-5 of his managers saying he’s called a meeting to discuss Project X. In the email, he describes the project, the deadline, the risks and rewards, and makes it absolutely clear that this is the top priority for the next two months. His directive is to re-schedule any other meetings or phone calls they may have scheduled in order to attend THIS meeting. He also asks each of them to research a topic related to the project and come to the meeting prepared to discuss their findings. Attached to the email is an agenda for the meeting.
Now, all the participants have a very good idea of what will be discussed, what is expected of them and how much of a priority this is, because the leader is credible. No one will miss this meeting. And, the chances of a successful execution of this project are high.
Scenario #2: During a brief conversation with your boss, you casually mention the fact that you’ve heard a new VP position is being created due to some organizational change. Your boss confirms the story and says everyone should know more in a couple of weeks. Assuming you want to be considered for this position, you:
1) Respond with: “Wow, that sounds great … that really will change things around here!” and then continue to watch and wait until an announcement is made so you can be the first applicant.
2) Respond with: “I’d really like to be considered for that position, and I have some great ideas as to how my experience will benefit the company. I’m happy to give you my thoughts in writing by this afternoon.”
In which response is it abundantly clear that you really want to be considered for the position and that you’re going to make it easy for your boss to consider you?
In each of these scenarios, somebody is relying on others to infer the importance of the situation, and someone else is doing the upfront work of clarifying their priorities and preparing accordingly.
Clarity Leads to Results
Being crystal clear about what you want or expect is a risk: If you don’t get what you want, there’s no graceful way to recede into the background and pretend it never was your idea to begin with.
But, hoping others will figure out what you want or expect is a much bigger risk. No one is going to care about you, your business, your career or your family as much as you do.
Your sales team won’t understand how to communicate the benefits of your new product or service unless you spend the time to tell them exactly how they should talk about it. Your boss may not jump to the conclusion that you deserve the promotion or a raise unless you deliberately communicate how and what you can contribute to the company’s success. Your employees won’t understand that cutting their travel expenses this quarter is the difference between end-of-year bonuses or no bonuses. And your teenager may not understand why you insist on doing things a certain way unless you communicate your family values. Don’t just hope people will “get it.”
Your ability to communicate in a clear way is reliant on how committed you are to the work of being deliberate and intentional about what you want. If you don’t believe it, check out some of the antonyms for the word “deliberate”: chance, haphazard, hit-or-miss, random, aimless, desultory, purposeless, hasty, hurried, rushed, abrupt, impetuous. This is not the group of words you want when you’re aiming for success!
If you and your team want to learn how to better communicate your ideas by mastering the art of a concise and compelling communication, check out the Brief Online Boot Camp, a course I developed to help senior executives and their teams become even more effective communicators. Based on the award-winning book BRIEF: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less, it’s the same methodology we teach to elite special operation units and Fortune 500 leadership teams.
About the author: Joe McCormack is on a mission to help progressive organizations master concise communication. Joe works with Fortune 500 companies and elite special operations units, is the founder of The Brief Lab and author of Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less. Follow us on Twitter @TheBriefLab