The purpose of clarity is to remove confusion.
Clarify the problem to solve and what success looks cuts down the friction that erodes value, destroys trust, and burns people out.
Especially when the upfront effort to clarify reduces wasted work and unnecessary rework.
If clarity is so good, then why does it make some people nervous?
Clarifying success takes away the wiggle room
Lack of clarity gives everybody the opportunity to decide for themselves what success looks like. For some, it’s the opportunity to steer to the outcome where they look the best (usually to feel valuable).
We see this in stressful, fast-paced environments where chaos runs seemingly unbridled and the “Tyranny of the Urgent” makes a daily appearance.
Wiggle room is a protection mechanism.
Instead of taking the risk of clarifying success — and missing the mark — people learn to spend their effort tailoring the narrative to explain what happened and position themselves for success.
When we clarify success, we take away the wiggle room. It makes it harder to steer the narrative and puts focus on showing the work and getting the expected results. For many people, this creates a fear spike, as they fear the lack of external validation of their value.
Clarity takes away room to hide
Clear outcomes expose people who either lack confidence in their skills or do not know how to solve the problem. While they can hide in ambiguity and rely on others to carry them, a clear expectation of outcome — and their role in achieving it — means they have no place to hide.
“Don’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree!” – Einstein (maybe)
We need to assess if the person is capable and willing to do the work to achieve the outcome. Sometimes we have the right people in the wrong positions, and the clarity of what we expect causes panic. Or we find someone simply unwilling to do the work. As leaders, it’s our opportunity to help them find a better fit within the team, organization, or possibly some place else.
Clear outcomes reveal misalignment and control issues
Sometimes clarifying success is not in alignment with what someone else wants and takes away their control over the situation.
Sounds sinister, but it’s often the way people who feel misunderstood learn to create opportunity.
And when you clarify the outcome you expect, you take that control away and they freak out — usually by suggesting everyone is already on the same page and this is a waste of time.
Some folks got comfortable using a broad opportunity to shape and steer to the outcome they desire. It takes time, but they view ambiguity as cover to make the case, win people over, and drive to the outcome they believe in.
What do we do about it?
Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice.
Extend everyone a little grace and some patience. The more chaotic and intense the situation, the more grace and patience everyone needs. Healthy conflict is a sign of progress – embrace it and use it to create more value for everyone.
Instead of assuming the worst, explore if you actually achieved the clarity you thought you did.
When we clarify problems and success, we give people the opportunity to see if they understand — and agree. Sometimes they don’t agree, and for good reason.
They might have an important experience or insight that changes the situation. Or a realization they are not capable or willing to do the work – or just need a little more guidance to build the confidence.
Sometimes you find that a member of the team is not in alignment or lacks the skills and desire to solve the problem as expected. Those are tough, but necessary conversations that help find the pathway that works for everyone involved.
Clarity fuels acceleration.
We deliver value faster when everyone aligns on the outcome and contributes value.
Addressing the fear and anxiety at the beginning of the process protects value, builds trust, and elevates your team.