One of the most frustrating paradigms for staff to work under is subjective clarity. This is organizational clarity that exists in the mind of a leader rather than clearly defined on paper clear with staff. With subjective clarity, in order to know what is acceptable or not, what directions to pursue or strategies that are "OK" one needs to talk to the leader. The organizational clarity is essentially what is acceptable to them but since it is not spelled out one either must ask permission or forgiveness after the fact (if they get it wrong).

Subjective clarity by definition means that one has a permission withholding culture in the organization. One cannot move forward without the permission of the leader since we cannot read his/her mind. If you get it wrong there is often the duplication of effort as you must go back to redo what was previously done, but this time in the way the leader desires. Subjective clarity is a moving target that disempowers staff, makes the leader a bottle neck in decisions, allows him/her to micromanage and frankly is the sign of either a poor or immature leader.

Objective clarity is clarity that is clearly defined for all staff, understood by staff and is the "measure" they go back to when thinking about what they do and how they do what they do. It is clarity around things like mission, guiding principles, central ministry focus and culture with commonly held definitions of what they mean and how they are articulated. 

This takes the organizational clarity out of the subjective realm of the leader's mind and puts it in an objective form that all can go back to for direction, guidance and decision making. With objective clarity, one moves to a permission granting organization where staff can move forward without constantly consulting their leader because they know what the ground rules are. In addition, the how of what they do is largely left up to them as long as they achieve the mission of the organization.

There are many organizations who do not yet operate with objective clarity. This is especially true in the church where the senior pastor has whatever subjective clarity he has in his head and staff must go through him on all major initiatives. It works, to a point, but it is permission withholding and it disempowers staff. Getting to a commonly held clarity is a far better route to take and attracts much better long term staff. They know what the mission is and what the non negotiables are.

If you are in the subjective side, make the transition to the objective side. Subjective clarity is actually not clarity. It is simply the thinking of one person at the time they are asked. It is arbitrary and inconsistent. 

If you need more information on getting to clarity, Leading From the Sandbox, chapters two, three and four are focused on that topic.

  • Jan 25, 2012
  • Category: News
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