How Effective Leaders Breed Clarity

This blog post was authored by David Horsager, who will be speaking at TCIA’s Winter Management Conference 2017 in Puerto Rico, February 5-9.

I met an 88-year-old man named Orville at my health club. I first noticed him one afternoon while checking in at the front desk. I noticed Orville stumbling along behind me. There was no way this man, slowly shuffling along the path to the gym, was going to do any kind of meaningful workout! Orville patiently moved, inch by inch, into the weight-training area, picked up some dumbbells, and, with an audible grunt, started his routine.

One day I happened to see Orville out of the corner of my eye, stepping onto one of the treadmills. I was across the room, and he was already reaching for the start button. Too far away to help him, I just stood there and watched. As the treadmill came to life, Orville took one small step, and then another. The machine picked up speed, but miraculously, so did his legs. Within a minute, he hit full stride, running like a man half his age!

At this point the reality of the situation dawned on me. Orville’s problem wasn’t with his legs, it was with his vision. He couldn’t see where he was going. Though Orville did nothing to cause his vision problem, it is a powerful example of how limited we are when we lack clarity and vision.

How often do leaders and employees lack clarity in their communication, and as a result, drive forward ambiguous goals?

I think 90 days is the best timeframe for most goals. A year is too long—see how few people keep New Year resolutions? Twenty-one days is too short for most real change. However, in 90 days I lost 33 pounds and I’ve seen people triple sales and stop complaining.

That’s why I like the 90-Day Quick Plan. It is a strategy for getting clear on how you are going to achieve your most vital goals.  
Pick an area of your business or personal life that you’d like to address, and then ask six questions. Don’t wait to start because the plan should take less than 30 minutes to create.

Question 1: Where am I? 

If you do not know where you are today, you cannot know where you would like to be in the future. Ask this question and you will be able to quickly identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. For example, where am I in my relationship with my kids? Where am I in my health? Where am I in comparison to expected sales? Where are we as far as the number of people we are reaching with our message or product?

Question 2: Where am I going in 90 days? 

This is not one year or five years like many strategic plans. Thinking about your answer in Question 1 about where you would like to be in 90 days, write a clear, quantifiable (numerical) goal. You will likely accomplish more than you thought in just 90 days!

Question 3: Why am I going? 

If the “Why” is strong enough, the plan does not need to be perfect. If a building is burning and my kids are in it, I don’t need to know every detail—I’m going in because my “Why” is so strong. When you are motivated and unified, you’ll do the little things differently. You’ll stay passionate and focused, and you’ll finish well.

Question 4: How am I going to get there? 

Keep asking “How?” until you commit to taking specific actions.

Question 5: How am I going to get there? 

I press people to ask, “How?” until they have come up with a specific action they will take starting today or tomorrow at the latest. Be tough on yourself with this.

Question 6: How am I going to get there? 

This is not a mistake. I have found that most people must ask, “How?” at least three times before they are clear enough. It may take asking “How?” seven times in order to get enough clarity. Don’t stop asking “How” until you have decided on a specific action that will be taken starting today or tomorrow.

After working through a personal example, you can see how valuable the 90-Day Quick Plan could be for your team or business unit. Give it a try. Clarity is increased when a message is heard or seen frequently so communicate your goal often. Whether through a company-wide memo in a Fortune 500 company, or in a weekly team meeting in a small business, sharing the vision often and being honest about the progress are essential steps toward building trust in your leadership and in your organization.

As a leader, what is getting in the way of developing and sharing a clear vision? And How? How? How are you going to get there?

I think it is also important to note what can happen from a lack of clarity. The recent Wells Fargo scandal reminds me of the cost of a lack of trust:
After the financial disaster of illegally created sham accounts created by employees in order to meet sales targets, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $185 million in penalties and fines.

However, I think the bigger cost is the decimated reputation of the chief executive at Wells Fargo – Mr. John Stumpf. During a Senate Banking Committee hearing, Senator Elizabeth Warren stated “You haven’t returned a single nickel of your personal earnings – it’s gutless leadership.” All of the years Mr. Stumpf spent building a great reputation as a trusted business leader, it appears to have all crumbled beneath him in a moment due to his oversight, lack of clarity and error in judgement. Wells Fargo also announced that it will take back an estimated $41 million dollars in his compensation (

This is a valuable lesson to understand how a lack of clarity and accountability can lead to unethical sales activity and illegal behavior. It is our job as leaders to work with our sales teams to give the clarity necessary for them to make good decisions that will strengthen trust with customers.

Here are some additional ways to improve clarity when communicating with your sales team:

  • Listen
  • Empathize
  • Avoid manipulation. Don’t overstate or understate.
  • Speak honestly and without exaggeration.
  • Stay focused and avoid distractions.
  • Ask questions.
  • Glean information from nonverbal communication.
  • Keep an open mind and do not jump to conclusions.
  • Do not criticize.
  • Simply the complicated.
  • Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.
  • Mean what you say.

I am excited to be invited back to speak at the 2017 Winter Management Conference and will have additional ideas to share for growing sales in your organizations and leaving a legacy of trust!

About the Author

David Horsager, MA, CSP, is a business strategist, CEO of Trust Edge Leadership Institute and author of the National Bestseller The Trust Edge: How Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships, and a Stronger Bottom Line. His work has been featured in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, Fast Co., and SUCCESS Magazine, and his clients range everywhere from the US Congress and the New York Yankees to Toyota and John Deere. Learn more and get free resources at and David will be the keynote speaker for the 2017 Winter Management Conference held February 5-9, 2017 in Puerto Rico.