I got to tune in to the Chick-Fil-A Leadercast last Friday, thanks to the university I work for, which was a sponsor of the event. This annual event is broadcast at sites across the nation. This was the first time I was able to attend.
We heard from a lot of great speakers about leadership, and much of what I heard either inspired me or made me think more about ways I could be more effective as a leader. Those few hours on Friday have given me much to think about.
For me, the best takeaway of the day came from the first presenter: a minister named Andy Stanley.
Complexity is the enemy of clarity.
Those of us in the communications business know this, right? We learned from Strunk and White to “Omit needless words.” We try to break complex thoughts down into shorter, single-thought sentences. We strive for simplicity.
But as the work we do becomes more complex, it’s easy to lose sight of the need for clarity. It becomes shrouded by the fog of too many projects, too many priorities, too many new stakeholders to worry about, too many audiences to be reached with a single message or vehicle. (The typical higher ed home page is one example of how complex things can get in our world. Contrast the typical higher ed home page with Google’s, and the issue is very clear.)
Things may be even tougher for higher ed communicators than those in other fields. (Another speaker of the day, John C. Maxwell, pointed out that “Educators make the simple complex. Communicators make the complex simple.”) But judging from the buzzword-laden press releases that come from the corporate world, it looks like things are tough all over for communicators.
No matter what our sector is, complexity is the enemy of clarity.
But complexity is inevitable. It comes with growth.
Think about how you do your job these days. Now, compare it to five years ago. Consider the role social media plays in your marketing compared to its role in 2008. Look back 10, 20 years and you’ll see a tremendous difference. Remember your institution’s first web page?
Much has changed and grown more complex, hasn’t it.
Stanley said: “Growth creates complexity, which requires simplicity.”
The need for clarity has never been greater. We need more clarity in how we think, communicate, lead and work with others. We need to strip away all the complexity and figure out the clearest, best-understood approach to any project or task.
Here’s an idea (stolen from Andy Stanley’s talk): Take a current project you’re involved in. The more complex, the better (for the purpose of this exercise). In the context of that project, try to answer these three questions:
- What are we doing?
- Why are we doing it?
- Where do I fit in?
If you’re really ambitious, try to answer the same three questions for your department, or your institution.
Those are three simple questions. But clearly, simple doesn’t mean easy. Answering them will take you quite a bit of think time. I’m still trying to answer them for my department, my university and myself.
P.S. – For anyone interested in reading more about what Andy Stanley, John C. Maxwell and all of the other speakers had to say, a consulting firm called The Malphurs Group has posted a great summary of all the Chick-Fil-A Leadercast 2013 presentations.