Moves from Muck to Clarity

This week’s post was written by Dave Crumrine.

One of the key responsibilities of leadership is to define reality (Max DuPree). Leaders determine the reality of where we are as a company and what challenges lay before us. Reality ultimately helps teams figure out what to pursue…with clarity! Clarity is essential for performance, whether strategic or tactical. Without clarity, human beings wait, they defer, they hedge. Almost none of us are immune to this phenomenon.
Creating clarity is a big job in most organizations, and the need for it is growing exponentially over time. The world is changing faster and faster, and our historical ways of dealing with it cannot keep up. Currently, the US military is engaged in an effort to rewrite how they make decisions so that they can be effective in the quickly changing battlefields of today and tomorrow. Our challenges are similarly difficult, but, with committed leadership addressing the issue, we can be effective.

“Muck” is a term for what the world brings to us – complexity, change, struggle. Whether it is rational, emotional, or all in between, muck is complex and messy. Leaders need to engage in the muck and lead through it. Without this leadership, the team will struggle in many ways.

Job #1: find the clarity. Getting there is often the very hardest part of the performance journey. Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” As Engineers, Technicians, and Scientists, we often struggle here and want to hop into “solving” quickly. Why? Because we are good at solving problems. The trap here is that we start by solving a problem that is not the true root of our challenge, often because it is most obvious solution at that moment. Leaders need to resist this momentum and make sure the root issue is clear. 

Clarity allows us to act together and with focus. It is the difference between a flashlight and a laser. When we use our limited energy on a specific problem, we can be extremely impactful. The clarity provides that difference. This doesn’t mean we research forever or never act. There will always be uncertainty and risks to manage (and the leader is responsible for acknowledging these facts and presenting them to the team), but having the problem clearly defined sets the team up for true success.

A key idea that comes to light when discussing leadership is “the beauty of the and.” Jim Collins and others have discussed this in their writings, and our Sr. Team feels compelled to share that we shouldn’t oversimplify problems. When we do this, we end up with a “we can do this, or we can do that” scenario. Our Crucial Conversations training shows us that this is a “Sucker’s Choice” and sets teams up to underperform. By looking for the best out of multiple options and merging them together, we are looking for the beauty of the AND. This is also called Integrative Thinking and is an emerging piece of what IPD Project Delivery requires. We need to be exemplary in this area.

The final step in moving from Muck to Clarity pertains to choosing. We haven’t been great at this step, and no good idea seems to go without attention here at Interstates. We need to excel at picking the brightest ideas and the strategies with the highest potential. Again, this will lead to clarity and focus, and, through that, a lot of accomplishment in a rapidly changing world. Leaders must drive this process. They must lead their teams through realistic selection efforts and true assessments of their team’s capacity. We must be honest and real.

Are you leveraging your leadership to achieve more clarity and less “muck”?  From whatever level you are leading, are you setting your team up for success by driving the clarity for them? 

Continue leading the Interstates Way…..with clarity! 

Dave Crumrine


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