“I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16)
This week, Hurricane Sandy’s massive power left millions seeking a light in the darkness (both literally and figuratively). The news photos and stories of devastated communities longing for relief brought to mind the image of a lighthouse—a beacon of light, hope, and safety. It strikes me that this is a good and proper depiction of the role of leaders in both good times and bad—pointing the way forward, toward light and safety.
I’ve had the occasion recently to help two organizations implement performance management and employee development systems. In both cases, they were organizations run by experienced, dedicated, and charismatic leaders, with strong leadership teams, and healthy and positive employee cultures. Remarkably, though, in both cases, leadership felt that well less than fifty-percent of their employees had a clear understanding of the organization’s direction, why they made the decisions that they made, and where they were heading—a circumstance that the leaders attributed to poor communication on their parts (sins of omission, if you will).
It really struck me that two otherwise high-performing, well-respected leaders openly acknowledged they needed to do a much better job of communicating the organization’s vision and direction to their employees (instead of taking for granted that “everyone knows where we are headed”). After coming to this realization, both were determined to redouble and refocus their communication efforts. And both were certain that this would have any number of tangible and intangible benefits to performance, productivity and morale.
It is axiomatic that everyone looks to their leaders for direction. These leaders believed firmly that if their employees had a clearer sense of where the organization was going, they would advance in that direction much more confidently, quickly, and directly (and with considerably less anguish and costly uncertainty). This is leadership time well-spent, they reasoned.
Strong leaders serve as lighthouses for their employees, offering:
- Light—shining forth, cutting through the fog of an uncertain environment
- Hope—giving confidence that the organization has a plan (or at least a direction) for the future (and a path for getting there)
- Safety—reassurance that someone is standing watch, guiding their ship toward safe harbor
Even in good times, the leaders I worked with this week recognized the need to communicate vision and point the way forward with clarity and confidence. In difficult times—of economic, operational, and environmental distress and uncertainty—this is doubly and triply true.
Let us remind ourselves often of the need for clearly communicated vision—and let us help leaders point the way with confidence. May we all help steer our organizations to safe harbors.
Our thoughts and prayers are with all those suffering the effects of Hurricane Sandy.