Expert advice on Business Leadership and tips on becoming a more effective Leader.

Leadership From Confusion to Clarity By Bryant Nielson

New leaders – and sometimes more senior leaders – can find themselves in organizations and situations that are very cloudy and confusing.

This problem could arise from changes in the organization’s structure, new leadership, a lack of direction, or even a new team or organization. What can a leader do to create clarity amidst the confusion?

First of all, you must define the future for the organization. Many times confusion arises from just not knowing where the organization is headed. Define the future by determining a vision and mission for the organization – and be as specific as possible.

What goal do you want the organization to reach, and in what time frame? Do you need or want the organization to grow in size, revenue, or number of locations? All of these things must be described concisely in order to lift some confusion.

You’ll find that by just painting a picture of what the future looks like, people will fall behind it and begin moving in the same direction. Remember that your vision is most likely a change, so expect the organization to react to change before embracing the new direction.

Next, be sure to clarify roles. This simple statement takes on quite a bit of complication because you must clarify the roles of everyone in the organization – from the front line to middle managers, as well as your own role.

As a leader, your role should concentrate on the big picture and you should communicate this to the organization. While you’re clarifying roles, you may need to adjust them, as well. For example, if you’re trying to move your organization into a more leadership-based organization, you may have to define managers as team leaders – and begin changing the hierarchy.

You may also find that you have to adjust roles within the organization – the person or team who was responsible for certain tasks may not be the best suited for those tasks and you may have to make adjustments.

As you move down into the organization, be certain that every person is aware of his or her role – and that their questions about that role can be answered by you or another leader.

With clarified roles, at least people can direct their attention to their tasks and not to the confusion that may be occurring.

Third, begin the process of developing leaders at all levels. Look at the training that currently exists in the organization. Is the training based on function only, or are there opportunities for people to grow as coaches or leaders?

Can you take functional training and adjust it to create functional leaders, that is, people who excel at their normal tasks and can be used to lead others in those tasks? Examine the organization to determine if any leadership is visible at the lower levels – and spend time developing those groups. But how does this create clarity in confusion?

First, creating a talent pool helps you to clarify roles. You may have emerging leaders who can now see their role within the organization – and the possibility that they can move up within the organization.

Second, you’re making it clear that in order to reach the organization’s goals, each person has a chance to become a leader. So not only can people concentrate on their own tasks, they can also concentrate on how leadership skill can improve the entire organization.

You must remove hierarchies and boundaries that may have caused confusion in the past. Sometimes you’ll find that the organization may have quite a bit of redundancy in tasks and responsibilities.

This not only creates confusion but it also creates less than good will amongst departments and teams. By examining who’s doing what, you can clarify the hierarchy and move to create an organization that functions efficiently.

Boundaries between teams and departments can also contribute to confusion. In many organizations, teams do not have a general awareness of how they fit in with the big picture and with other teams.

In fact, many individual team members may be keenly aware of his or her own tasks, but have no idea how those tasks contribute to the overall function of the organization. By breaking down the walls between teams and departments, you’ll allow everyone to see how it all fits together, as well as to expose redundancy and ineffective processes.

Again, removing an old way of doing things is a change, so be sure to communicate the benefits the change at all times.

Finally, communication is the key to removing confusion – both formally and informally. On the informal side, you, as the leader, must be a constant champion of your own vision and goals for the future. In other words, you should talk about it whenever you have the chance.

Be sure that lower-level organizational members hear the words coming out of your mouth – prove to them that it’s not just top-level talk. More formally, consider using a G.E. “Work Out” approach, where business units come together to solve problems and brainstorm on future efficiencies.

Allow the people who do the work to communicate with you and your team – you’ll find that some of the best ideas come from that type of communication. You can also consider “town hall” type meetings, where you go to the groups and allow them to ask questions about the changes, the new vision, and the direction of the organization.

Remember that communication is a two way street, so just as you communicate to the organization, allow the organization to communicate with you.

By defining the future, clarifying roles, developing leaders, removing boundaries, and opening communication, you can create clarity in the midst of confusion – and move your organization ahead.

Copyright 2008 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.
Bryant Nielson – Managing Director and National Sales Trainer – assists executives, business owners, and top performing sales executives in taking the leap from the ordinary to extraordinary. Bryant is a trainer, business & leadership coach, and strategic planner for sales organizations. You can visit him at

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