12Clarity Counts:

How and Why Leaders Should Give Clear Guidance on Rules

As I mentioned earlier, I recently had the honor of sharing a stage with Admiral Harry Harris, the US ambassador to South Korea. It was interesting to hear what he had to say, especially when comparing the similarities and differences between public and private leadership.

Admiral Harris’s military background was apparent when he talked about how important it is to give clear guidance. He said, “People follow orders better than they read minds.”

This really stood out to me. Imagine how catastrophic it is in a military situation when people aren’t absolutely sure what they’re expected to do. And I’ve also seen disasters unfold in the business world when clear direction wasn’t given.

This notion of clear guidance is also highlighted in a new book called Go Long: Why Long-Term Thinking Is Your Best Short-Term Strategy. It’s a really short book—just 100 pages—and is a series of case studies that give a history of times when important decisions created huge turnarounds for companies.

There’s one story in the book about Alan Mulally, who was CEO first at Boeing and then later at Ford Motor Company, where he is credited with the company’s $48 billion turnaround. It talks about how he kept a handful of rules on a single card and repeated them over and over. He used this same card for 45 years!

This clarity made it easy for employees to follow the rules and for managers to hold them accountable. In fact, Go Long ...

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