It's a great time to talk clarity as most leaders put the subject on the front burner.  Yet, strangely enough, the more you read, the more it's possible for static to fill the airwaves. The same day this week, you can digest Tony Morgan's Stop Making Goals for the Future and scan Michael Hyatt's leadership reflections on wanting to do more visioning and strategic planning in 2010. Both are excellent posts, but on the surface they contradict. In addition, leaders everywhere list excellent questions to think through, like this great post from David Lermy on Strategic Thinking Movement. Yet, if you were to collect all of the good questions to ask, there would be an overwhelming number of question marks to wade through.

There is a great need for clarity on clarity. How do we makes sense of all of the opinions, terms and alternative perspectives on vision and planning?  Should I resolve not to make resolutions this year or feel guilty if I don't have my top three goals for 2010?

Here are some recommendations:

#1 Successful leadership requires more clarity work not less. The more you lead and the more God blesses your leadership, the more liable you are of losing clarity. Because success assaults clarity, you must never stop fighting the good fight. Engage your own clarity journey with courage and keep reading everything you can on the subject.

#2 Many leaders are in desperate need of a clarity system. With so many ways of looking at goals and planning, its is critically important to find an approach and process that works for you. Here is an excellent little post by Ron Edmondson, on the power of a system: Having a System Makes Life Better. Read this in light of your current stance toward vision and planning, both personally and organizationally.

#3 Every approach to clarity should start with a "plane ride." While all of the answers to your life's clarity questions are organically related, they are also hierarchically structured. (I know that's a bad word these days.) Clarity at every level must start with clarity at the top level- the 30,000 foot view from the plane. There are many ways of capturing this idea: synthesis before analysis, strategic precedes tactic, etc. To illustrate, a sense of overall direction must precede determining this year's priorities, which must precede  daily task creation. I expect every reader knows this, but it leads to the most important thing I have to say in this post- point #4.

#4 Most leaders have not spent enough time in the plane for themselves or the organizations they lead. As a result, all of the lower level questions (goals, priorities, plans, roles, structure, systems, daily tasks, etc.) are, at best, more difficult to answer. At worst, the answers are shaped by the misdirected forces of pet agendas, feelings, status quo protection and turf wars. From my perspective, the tragedy of this situation cannot be overstated. Leaders consistently move toward tactics and execution without clarity first. Remember, clarity isn't everything but it changes everything.

So how do you know whether you have spent enough time in the plane? The clarity system we use at Auxano makes it easy to know. Basically you answer five "plane ride" questions in a clear concise and compelling way before moving on, and therefore "framing" all other planning work. Here is a summary of the Vision Frame as the Five Irreducible Questions of Leadership.

Now matter what system you use, make sure you spend enough time in the plane.

#5 Once you have the top-level clarity work done, focus on simplicity and singularity with implementation. Two problems undermine daily clarity at every turn: 1) Having too many goals and 2) Having goals that are too long-term. Again, there are many models, but here is a starting point. Use a 90-day "season of success." 90 days is not too far away to connect to today. But 90 days is enough time to measure substantial progress. Are you ready for ultimate clarity? Look at a 90-day window and ask, "Based on the plane ride view, what is the single most important area to focus on, or thing to do in the next 90 days." Your greatest challenge?  It's easier to list five things than one. I dare you try just one and see what happens!

#6 Join the Open Source Vision Casting initiative that was recently started. It's about kingdom-minded leaders helping kingdom-minded leaders drip vision into their lives and ministry each day. Here is a link to the twub that shows more.