Dissecting Leadership: Clarity of Vision

We’ve all been there. Your team leader calls you in for a meeting. You all gather around, eagerly expecting to find out what news lies ahead. How is the team doing? Are you achieving your objectives? Are there obstacles ahead? What’s the update? You and your teammates know that if things are going well, your jobs will be better. If things aren’t, well… Unfortunately, we all know how that goes, too. So when you walk into that meeting, you have to decide if you believe what your leader is telling you. Is he right? Does he understand the team objective well enough to communicate things accurately to you? And if you don’t trust what your leader is saying, what do you do? How is the team supposed to proceed from there?

I know– I’m sure more than one of you is shaking your head, thinking to yourself, “When was the last time management gave me the whole picture?” Sadly, this is commonplace enough that we sometimes just accept this.

Let’s change this scenario a bit. A surgeon walks into the OR. Everyone agrees during the time out that the plan is to remove the patient’s gall bladder, but as the surgery proceeds, the surgeon isn’t doing what people expect. She’s looking at the bowel. She’s stapling off the appendix. She decides to do an EGD to look at the stomach lining. It won’t take long for the OR staff to question her moves. Why is she ignoring the gall bladder and doing these other things? If the team’s original plan was to take out the gall bladder, why is the leader doing everything but that? There might be a brave soul in the room who would whisper in a deferential tone, “Um, Doctor? Would you like a retractor so you can see the gall bladder a little better?” Will the surgeon take that cue? How do we think this procedure is going to turn out?

So how are these two scenarios different? In each case, the team believes that the objective is clear. But is it? If a business leader is not able to focus in on the goal, how is that different from the surgeon forgetting to take out the gall bladder during a laparoscopic cholecystectomy? Granted, sometimes objectives change. If that surgeon thought the gall bladder needed to come out but instead saw a large tumor, she may change her original plan. Would it be more effective if she clearly communicated this change to her team so they could adjust as well? We would assume so. Teams generally work better if there is a clear goal or vision that all members share.

The WHY Of It All

Our friend from previous posts Simon Sinek has given this idea of having a clear vision quite a bit of thought. His bestselling book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action from 2011 has inspired a legion of TED Talks, interviews and essays. Allow me to include a brief excerpt of Sinek explaining this concept a little more in his own words:


From a physician’s perspective, you have two types of patients– One patient understands his disease process and asks questions when something seems off. The other patient only follows your written instructions from six months ago and doesn’t realize that as things get worse, he needs to come in and see you again. Which will have a better outcome? Which patient’s management will be more complex? The patient who understands the why of his treatment usually does better.

Now let’s turn that around. You have a very compliant patient. This patient takes the pills you ask her to take. She records the metrics you ask her to record. She never misses an appointment. Would you expect her to have good control of her disease process? Probably. But what if her doctor gave her mixed signals? Didn’t take time to answer her questions? Came in to her appointments and never looked at any of her test results or daily logs? How do you think this patient would react? My bet is that she would either stop bothering to control her disease process because she doesn’t see the importance of doing so, or she would find herself another doctor.

In both of these cases, having a clear vision or goal of care is critical. Both the physician and the patient need to understand what it is they are working towards. If either party drops the ball, the team won’t achieve the objective.


Extend this scenario out to your staff. You ask your nurses to check the INR [blood thinner level] on your coumadin patients before every surgery. You tell them to let you know one day before each patient’s scheduled OR time so you can be sure that he or she won’t be at increased risk for bleeding during surgery. If your staff forgets to check, how will you know if this value is abnormal? I know… Most surgeons check these values themselves, but for this example, assume you have help. If the INR value is too high on the day of surgery, you have to cancel that case. The patient doesn’t get his needed surgery. You have to reschedule that procedure.

So you go back to your office and ask your staff why that lab wasn’t checked in time. What kinds of answers would you expect to get? I’m sure none of them would be satisfying… What if you talked to your staff and explained to them how important that lab really is and how it can hurt patients if this critical step is missed? Do you think your chances of getting notified when an abnormal lab pops up would increase? Hopefully. Now this lab value isn’t just a number– it’s a patient’s health. It’s a goal. It’s a team goal. And you have clearly explained why it is important so your staff can share your vision of improved care delivery.

I realize this is not a perfect example, but I hope the essence of it comes through. When a leader and her team both share that vision, things will happen. The noise and confusion levels will decrease. Now all of you can work together to overcome real obstacles in your path.


Clarity of Vision is just another way of saying to understand your goal. The more clearly you understand what it is you need to accomplish, the better you will be able to convey this message to your team in a way that each of them can understand. You may have more than one goal. In fact, your organization’s goals might differ from your immediate team goals. And your personal goals for that project might be something different as well. If you can break these larger goals down into smaller steps, they will be easier to explain and easier to achieve. All will overlap, but articulating these smaller steps often help us stay on target. And as Simon Sinek says, understanding the WHY is important to long-term success. The WHAT and the HOW will fall in line if we get our WHYs right.

So what is your WHY? How clearly can you articulate it?

Once you think you’ve figured that part out, you can look at how things affect your vision. External factors such as your available resources, your timeline and your teammates can have a huge impact on how your accomplish your goal. Internal factors, which include your hopes, fears and values, also need to be included. In fact, your internal motivations may be the most important piece to this puzzle– Why did you set this goal? What do you hope to get out of this deal? Do your personal motivations align with your team vision? It can be challenging to fight for something you don’t truly believe in.


Our past few posts in this Leadership Series have focused on breaking the elements of an effective leader down to its basic components. Today is no different. The Vision Map PDF allows you to jot down your thoughts on each of the topics we’ve discussed today. I invite you to download a copy and give it a try:

The Lonely Surgeon — The Vision Map

If you haven’t seen the first entry The Anatomy of Leadership or its follow-up Leadership Physiology, please take a look at these articles as well. I am including links to their Downloadable Goodness PDFs here as a shortcut to get you started:

The Lonely Surgeon — The Leadership Map

The Lonely Surgeon — The Leadership Plan

Where do we go from here? Well, as mentioned in my last post, we have The Big Three to discuss! On to #2 next week!

Until then…


Photo Credit: bewusstseinscafe | Pixabay