Paul Witkay: Five steps you can take to instill clarity and courage

I’ve read hundreds of great quotes from amazing leaders describing “leadership.” One of the simplest comes from Fuchan Yuan, who identified three essentials: “humility, clarity and courage.” Humility seems to be a character trait that people either have or don’t. Although many people perceive CEOs to have large egos, great leaders know that leadership is NOT about them as individuals.

Clarity is highly valued by most organizations. “Why do we exist?” “Where are we going?” and “How will we get there?” are essential questions that leaders need to answer if they are to build high-performance organizations.

Courage is expected of our leaders. Few things that are worth doing in life are easy, and followers must know that their leader will stay the course even in the toughest situations.

All three traits are important. But while I believe humility is a personal trait that doesn’t disappear overnight, clarity and courage can sometimes be lost in an instant and can be difficult to regain.

When a leader has a clear and compelling vision and a well-conceived strategy, the path ahead seems to unfold effortlessly. Sometimes the right path isn’t so easy to find, and even the best leaders experience an occasional crisis of confidence or a feeling of being “stuck.”

So what do great leaders do? Based on lessons I’ve learned from great leaders, I recommend the following:

Start with “why”

Simon Sinek’s TED talk, “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” is one of the most popular TED talks of all time. Sinek spoke about how people act according to their beliefs. Is your mission still compelling and crystal clear? If not, think about what has changed since you began your leadership journey.

Spend time with customers

Really listen to what your customers say. Do they truly appreciate what you do? Or, are you simply a commodity to them?

Spend time with employees

Listen to what they tell you about your customers and what they do and don’t enjoy about the company. Do they have a clear sense of the mission and strategy? What would they do if they were CEO?

Get outside perspectives

I founded the Alliance of Chief Executives in 1996 to enable leaders to discuss their most sensitive and deepest challenges in confidential, private meetings with other CEOs they respect and trust. All of us get into thinking and behavior patterns, and we typically need others who think differently to identify fresh approaches.

Take time for yourself

Leaders must take the time to slow down and reflect on their lives and current activities. Are you working to your full potential? You should explore these questions in-depth until you truly feel clear and energized by your decisions.

While leaders can sometimes lose clarity and courage, these traits can be restored. Once you’ve regained clarity, you will be able to move swiftly and confidently to communicate your vision while being open to ideas that will enable your organization to achieve your goals. When your mission is absolutely clear, you will also be able to muster the necessary courage to do what is needed.

Paul Witkay is founder and CEO of the Alliance of Chief Executives, the most strategically valuable and innovative organization for leaders anywhere. The Alliance strives to provide creative environments where breakthrough ideas happen.

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