Leadership Challenges – Providing Clarity: What I Learned from Rudyard Kipling

Leadership Challenges – Providing Clarity: What I Learned from Rudyard Kipling

I have had the pleasure of working with many organisations, teams and individuals and what consistently shines through in those who are under performing is a lack of clarity and understanding of a) What the organisation/team are looking to achieve b) What is expected of them c) What behaviours, when exhibited, will bring success d) The benefits delivering that success to the customer, them, their team and the organisation.

Conversely, where I see individuals, teams and organisations performing, they are clear on what they want to achieve and why and talk about this at every opportunity, sharing their successes in delivering this and celebrating their performance.

It won’t come as a surprise to read that clarity is the starting point of many of the development programmes I deliver as without doubt, it is fundamental to the long term behavioural and performance change both I and my clients seek. The one thing I am asked for most from the teams I speak with when diagnosing how the leaders I work with can improve the motivation and performance of their teams is clarity.

Providing clarity is not without its challenges…

During the diagnosis phase of working with my leadership clients I interview members of their team and often find, and without judgement, that the team are not as clear on what their leader wants them to achieve as they might hope they’d be, and most importantly why. In addition, when I ask leaders to convey their vision, goals, strategy and tactics for getting there to me, they are often less clear than they realised they were or indeed want to be. Here, coaching is often the first step in helping the leader to obtain clarity for them.

Having led myself, I know only too well the challenges to delivering clarity; ones own clarity, a constantly moving feast, staff turnover, time and the need to repeat messages (See my article “Leadership: It’s About Waves Up The Beach”), let alone the speed with which the team understand what you are trying to achieve and why, yet I know from experience that it can be done and to great effect.

So how can leaders provide clarity? 6 lessons from Rudyard Kipling

I have delivered many workshops and coached numerous people on how to communicate effectively using influencing skills, language filters and through the use of identifying and communicating to individual and team drivers. Throughout all of the development work I have delivered however, the greatest tool in communicating with clarity and to obtaining consensus and motivation is probably the simplest. It’s an approach, in fact, that I learned early in my career from Rudyard Kipling.

Having been approached to act as a change consultant (9 month secondment) on the merger between Nationwide and Portman Building Societies, overseeing and supporting the implementation of the change plans for three areas of the country, I realised that whilst I had been succeeding in my role previous role, I had been doing this in spite of a lack of real clarity.This lack of clarity (unlike the clarity I was looking to provide through the changes taking place across the two merging organisations), had really caused quite a considerable amount of inner turmoil and it wasn’t until I saw the impact on those I was supporting through change that I became aware of its impact on me. I was sure that I could perform to an even greater degree and that there must be a simple way to ensure that I and the leaders I was working with provided the clarity their people needed. This was when I came across this Rudyard Kipling Quote: “I keep six honest serving men, (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When, And How and Where and Who.” You may have seen this before, indeed you may not, my question to you is ‘do you use it?’

Let me explain…

I’d never come across Rudyard’s quote before and both reading it and using it has had a profound effect on the success I have seen and the performance of those I’ve led, coached and trained. When I read it the first time, it was my eureka moment! I thought to myself, I can use these “…six honest serving men” to provide me with the clarity I need to truly perform as I know I can.

At the end of my secondment, I arranged a meeting with my then line manager, talked about how much I’d enjoyed my time in change consultancy and how pleased I was to be back and how much I was looking forward to performing for her. She was pleased and reciprocated and told me how much I’d been missed. This was my opportunity, to seek the clarity I really knew I needed. Nervous at first, I began …”This Year…” I said “What I’d really benefit from you is six things…”. “OK” she replied. I went on “What would really help me this year is if you could share with me six things, they are:

  1. What you would like me to achieve?
  2. When would you like me to achieve that?
  3. With whom?
  4. Where?
  5. How would you like me to achieve that?
  6. Why would you like me to achieve that and in the way you’ve described?

Wonderfully my line manager confirmed that she could, almost sharing a sigh of relief. What followed was an hour of utter joy and, most importantly, the clarity I, and in many ways she, needed. I was so relieved, so clear and so motivated to achieve it for her and for me. She commented on how useful the session had been and how she’d use that approach going forward whenever communicating what it was she wanted people to achieve and commit to.

What was the outcome of having clarity…

The year that followed was one of the most successful periods in my career and, in many ways, led to the greatest leaps in my development, laying the foundation for the success I see on a daily basis in those I work with and develop to do the same. During those 12 months, I led numerous business development strategies to success, took over and led a team of 44 sales people to achieve target for the first time in nearly two years in only 3 months, was recognised for inspiring my people and developed 3 senior management teams to deliver target for the first time in over a year and more. They are 12 months, combined with 12 years of leading, coaching and developing people to perform that have led to the increases in performance I have delivered for organisations including Nationwide Building Society, NFU Mutual, Debenhams, Birmingham City University, Santander, The Co-operative Bank and Age Concern.

My questions to you…

  • How would you rate the clarity you are providing for your organisation and team?
  • How would your team rate the clarity you are providing for them?
  • How could you use Rudyard Kipling’s “six honest serving men” to enhance the level of clarity you are providing?

I’m here to help…Listening to, Collaborating with and Advising Leaders…

If you or your or any member of your organisation would benefit from greater clarity or being able to provide greater clarity through coaching, give me a call today on 07736942382 or e-mail me at stefan@yourleadershipcounsel.co.uk I can help you and more importantly I would love to…

Thank you for reading


Example Testimonial – Here’s just one example of the results you can achieve when clarity is provided by leaders to their team through coaching and support.

“After Meeting Stefan it was his passion to understand the business and work with us as a partner…Stefan has been really valuable in guiding us as a company on our journey of cultural change, his passion to ensure we succeed as a company shines through…Thank you, we look forward to our continuing journey” Paul Hunt – Managing Director – Phoebus Software Ltd


One thought on “Leadership Challenges – Providing Clarity: What I Learned from Rudyard Kipling

  1. Tackling Underperformance – Or … Why Do Underperformers Underperform? | prosperosworld.com

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