“Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication.” – Leonardo Da Vinci
Last week, I attended a meeting to review a new prospecting tool. During the discussion, I heard the following phrases: “boil the ocean,” “drill-down,” “drive alignment,” “leverage and orchestrate,” “low hanging fruit,” “optimize workloads,” “prescriptive guidance,” “track and attack,” etc. The business-speak made it difficult to understand how we were going to use the tool. Feeling similar to me, another member of the leadership team said, “So, the purpose of this tool is to help us identify new sales opportunities within our existing accounts, correct?” Clear. Simple. Thank you!
Effective leaders make complexity simple to create common understanding across the organization. In fact, if you review the meetings and presentations that you attended in the last two weeks, who got the most traction with their ideas? Speakers that made things complex and tedious. Or, speakers that articulated their positions in a simple, straightforward manner. As a general rule, complexity occurs for one of two reasons: the person does not have a thorough command of the subject matter or the person has poor communication skills.
For example, what definition of marketing will resonate and be best understood by people? Marketing is a system of activities designed to price, place (distribute) and promote products and services that satisfy the needs and wants of target customers and markets in order to achieve business objectives. Huh? Or, marketing is what you do to get customers in front of you. The second because it is easier to understand and put to use. In software development, there is a saying that usability drives adoptability. In leadership, simplicity drives understanding and action.
Too often complexity is synonymous with being savvy and having sophistication. In practice, complexity is more synonymous with failed initiatives, programs, etc. Effective leaders know that you do not solve complex issues and problems with more complexity. You solve them through simplification. Simplifying problems and issues increases focus. Focus removes distractions and creates better execution. Simplification also increases speed, including response-time, decision-making and action. As Jack Welch says, “You cannot have speed without simplicity.”
In summary, effective leaders are ruthless simplifiers of the business. If they want people to know the time, they do not tell them how to build a clock; they tell them the time. Effective leadership means condensing and synthesizing large amounts of data and information into simple, powerful thoughts and ideas. They eliminate the complex, redundant and unnecessary and reduce communication down to its simplest form, so people can understand and use it. As Longfellow said, “… in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.”
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