There are three essentials of leadership: humanity, clarity and courage.
Thomas Cleary -- Zen Lessons
Part 2: Clarity
Being an effective leader requires clarity -- clarity of values, vision and focus.
A colleague who is in sales recently shared with me a story about a situation he encountered in a past job in which a potential major client -- one that would have represented 10% of his company's annual revenue if they got the deal -- engaged in unethical practice against his company. They had been illegally obtaining licenses to use his company's software prior to purchasing it. Immediately upon discovery of this, the potential client was made aware of his company's knowledge of what had happened.
Just prior to the meeting in which the deal was to be made, the CEO called my colleague into her office and said, "If you don't have complete trust that they are going to do the right thing, you have my support to just walk away. You don't need to run it by me. Just walk away."
Fortunately, the client did do the right thing (the single individual responsible for the act was fired and a formal apology letter from management was issued with assurances this was contrary to their values and would not be repeated) and the deal went through. Nevertheless, my colleague's former CEO showed great clarity of values when she gave him authority to walk away from what would have been the largest deal ever for her company with a Fortune 50 company. My colleague shared that his experience working for that CEO was the single most satisfying time in his career.
If when asked those who follow you can immediately and clearly articulate where you and your organization are headed, you have clarity of vision. No other test is necessary. If your followers tilt their heads with the look of a puzzled dog when asked about your vision, you lack clarity. Or, if their answer doesn't match yours or each other's, you lack clarity. Simply asking the question -- even if you're afraid of the answer -- is a great start.
Having clarity of values and vision is essential, but having clarity of focus is equally important. This means "majoring in the majors." If you know where you're headed and what you stand for, but get bogged down in minuteae or fail to execute on the actions that will produce the greatest return on time invested, then you may not fulfill your vision. Take time to determine what activities will have the most impact toward achieving your vision and spend the majority of your time there.
In my own business, we conduct events. We've developed an internal buzzword called "salad dressing." Instead of focusing on the quality of the speaker, the value of the program content for our attendees or the value proposition for event sponsors, we spend inordinate time evaluating the quality of the salad dressing being served at the event. When we catch ourselves doing something like this, we joke with each other about not getting caught up in salad dressing issues.
Leadership clarity means knowing where you're headed, what you stand for and what actions toward your vision are essential vs. salad dressing.