Mind of the Manager

What works and what doesn't in the workplace

Without This Quality, Management Doesn't Work

Uncertainty in business is the enemy of accomplishment.

This (often overlooked) quality is crucial to sound management. Without it, uncertainty rules. Employees are unsure of roles, time is wasted, priorities muddled, operations run inefficiently. The quality isn’t top of mind, a bit subterranean. But without it, management just doesn’t work.

The quality is clarity.

Over the course of a long career, I’ve seen many projects, teams and even organizations founder on the shoals of confusion. This issue can take several forms; let’s consider three where it’s key.

Clarity of communication – The best managers at any level, from CEOs to line supervisors, are clear communicators. They leave no doubt what’s important and what’s not… what needs to be done and when. How many times times have you been frustrated by direction that was unclear, or a department or organization or board that just didn’t know where it wanted to go? The best managers are clear thinkers, clear speakers, and give ample clear direction and feedback. If anything is unclear, it’s understood no question is a bad one.

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Clarity of objectives – This is a deeply held (perhaps slightly quixotic) belief of mine, but I’ve long been of the opinion that management normally spends just a fraction of the time it should working closely with employees to set objectives that are completely clear. Ideally, they’re also agreed-upon and measurable. Annual “objective setting” is often treated as a dull bureaucratic function, a necessary evil… when actually it’s a critically important task with an extremely long tail—since clear, carefully conceived objectives can helpfully guide activities for many months to come.

Clarity of vision – While management is generally more focused on the business of today and leadership on the business of tomorrow, individuals in both roles need clarity about where they want their business to go. Think Steve Jobs, with “insane” attention to the Apple product experience. Or Warren Buffett, with insistence on investing only in businesses whose market needs he could easily understand. Or just any anonymous but respected line manager who knows his or her department’s business cold. No matter the size of an operation, clarity of vision is integral to success.

Uncertainty in business is the enemy of accomplishment.

Clarity can be overlooked as an essential managerial quality because it’s often just assumed. We want to believe our management knows its stuff. But anyone who’s been on the wrong end of unclear direction knows you can’t go far without it. Or actually you can, but likely not in the right direction.

This article first appeared at Forbes.com.

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You can follow Victor on Twitter for management-related news, tips and articles.

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Victor Lipman recently retired from the corporate world after 25 years with one of America's largest life insurance companies. He writes about management from a psychological perspective.

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