The Blog.

Six Critical Questions for Clarity

13 Dec 2012 | Clarity & Focus

How much clarity do you have right now?

Clarity is one of things I create with my clients in our coaching sessions. When we are clear about who we are, what we are doing and why, we find that motivation, energy, creativity and resourcefulness all flow with much more ease.

Clarity is what makes the difference between reactive firefighting and purposeful action, between frustrated tail-chasing and playful, productive momentum, between giving up and getting back up.

I love Patrick Lencioni’s six critical questions for clarity, which he shared at a leadership conference I attended recently, and also in his book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.

While his focus is mainly on large organisations, I’ve found these questions equally critical for small businesses.

Here they are, with a little rewording for those of us who are primarily in business by ourselves.

1. Why do we exist? (Why am I in business?)

My accountant would probably say that the reason for being in business should be to make a profit (he’s very old school, bless him). I would disagree.

Our core purpose is what gets us out of bed, lights us up inside, keeps us inspired through the rollercoaster ride and rewards us with that immense sense of satisfaction when we work towards it.

For many of the people I’ve met, worked with and coached, money ain’t it. Yes it plays an essential part in running a healthy business, but there’s a deeper why beyond the money.

My primary purpose at its most basic level is about helping people. Being profitable enables me to keep helping people and growing my business helps me to help more people. It’s a simple tweak in perspective which enables me to pursue my business wholeheartedly.

Sometimes our ‘why’ has nothing to do with what we do. Lencioni gives an example of a paving company that realised its core purpose wasn’t about driveways at all. It was about providing jobs in their community. In fact, if the paving industry went away, they would move onto roofing or something else. That’s what motivates them to run a successful business, to do a good job and get paid for it.

For my friend Sharon, it’s about supporting and enabling her son to pursue his tennis career, so for her, business opportunities are only ‘fit for purpose’ if they allow her to be flexible and meet those commitments.

When we are clear about our core purpose, and stay true to the fundamental reason why we do what we do, it gives us motivation, direction, fuel and fulfilment.

What’s your ‘why’?

2. How do we behave? (What are my values and how do I live them out?)

Values are who we are. Not who we would like to be, not who we think we should be, but who we are in our lives, right now. And the essence of who we are is captured in the way we behave and how we do business.

Patrick Lencioni describes a core value as something you’re willing to get punished for, and violating it would be like selling your soul.

His example of Southwest Airlines showed their “fun loving spirit” value in action. When a customer complained that there were too many jokes in the safety announcement, instead of apologising, toning down the humour and assuring that safety would be taken more seriously in future, Southwest replied with a three worded letter, “We’ll miss you!”

One of my core values is generosity. That means I give a lot of information away freely, on my blog, in interviews and in conversation, and sometimes some people will take only the free stuff. That’s ok – I know I have even more to give to my clients. It also means I collaborate better than I negotiate!

This is about being you, not all things to all people. Knowing what makes you you, and living that out in your business. When you do:

  • Your offering becomes much more distinctive. You stand out from the crowd.
  • You operate from a place of strength. These are the things that come naturally to you.
  • You stand your ground, instead of chasing every possible lead, and start attracting customers who value what you value, making your work far more rewarding and fun.

My VA friend Rebekah expresses her value of creativity in the vibrant and colourful way she dresses. You’ll never find her in a suit, but that’s precisely why she stands out to the kind of creative, expressive, clients she loves to work with (ones that make very expensive handbags, for example!)

What are your three core values? What do they look like day to day? How do you live them out in the way you do business?

3. What do we do? (What do I do?)

Yup, the simple “does what it says on the can” statement. What is the nature of your business? What do you do? Can you describe that clearly and accurately, in a way your prospective clients, networking contacts or a five year old can understand?

If you just want to help people, how specifically are you going to choose to do that? What’s your stake in the ground that says “this is what I do”?

4. How will we succeed? (How will I succeed?)

This is your strategy. There are lots of paths to success, and strategy is about choosing yours. Rather than having every detail mapped out, Lencioni suggests having three ‘strategic anchors’ that inform day to day decisions.

For example, Southwest Airlines’ strategic anchors are to “keep fair prices low”, “create fanatically loyal customers” and “make sure the planes are on time” so would they invest in the latest reclining seats or a fancier on-board menu? Well that would probably push their costs and prices higher, so probably no.

On the other hand, my friend Liz runs a cupcake company that is all about bespoke, handmade, delicious, fresh cupcakes. Would she look at getting her cakes mass manufactured? No. Would she offer to match decorations to a bride’s bouquet or make the Superman figure on a six year old’s cake look just like the birthday boy? Yes.

One of my strategic anchors is building personal relationship. So given the choice between advertising in a magazine and writing for them, I’ll go for the writing every time. Given the choice between sponsoring and speaking at an event, I’d choose to speak. Because it gives me a voice and an opportunity to connect with people on a more personal level.

When we are clear on our strategy, it’s much easier to distinguish between opportunities and distractions, decide what’s important and what’s not, make day to day decisions and filter down from a myriad of “all the things I could do” to what you are choosing to focus on and do exceptionally well.

How clear are you about your strategic anchors?

5. What’s most important right now?

When organisations have different teams pursuing different agendas, the result is chaos, frustration and confusion and the effects are demoralising.

When individual business owners pursue several different things all at once, the result is frustration, overwhelm, confusion, and often “running round like a headless chicken.”

You can do anything, but not everything right now. So what are you going to FOCUS on? What’s going to make the biggest impact towards your core purpose?

Even jugglers focus on one ball at a time. Get it in the air before moving onto the next one. Release and catch. One and then another.

So what are you choosing to commit to first? What’s most important right now?

6. Who must do what? (What must I do?)

In an organisation this is about roles and responsibilities. If you’re on your own, it’s tempting to answer this question with “Me – everything”.

But defining your role is as beneficial for you, the decision maker, as it is for those you delegate to.

There are the things you must do, that only you can do, that are key to your business. The ‘essential requirements’ on your job spec. Your big rocks.

There are the ideals, the ‘nice to have’s, the icing on the cake.

And then there’s the occasional ‘muck in’ like my friend the youth worker who saw that the girl’s toilets were overflowing and got the mop and bucket out. It wasn’t her job, but she mucked in and got it done.

If you’re the only person in your business, you’ll probably find yourself mucking in with things you never thought you’d be doing, but if you spend all your time there, nobody will be taking care of the big rocks.

This is as much a question of time as it is about team. Essentially for those of us who are in business by ourselves and for ourselves, the question is “where should I be spending most of my time?” Tweaking the font on your website for the forty-sixth time, or getting out there and winning business?

So there you have it, six critical questions for clarity. I’d love to know how you get on, let me know in the comments below!

Want my help with this? Let’s talk!


  1. Naomi Richards

    Great blog post. I tihnk when we come to the end of the year these questions need to be asked as the answers could be different to last year. We all need clarify from time to time so that we keep on track and focussed.

    • Grace Marshall

      Absolutely, the landscape and our perspectives change as we go through the journey, so definitely worthwhile revisiting these questions on a regular basis. Thanks for taking the time to comment Naomi, and best wishes for your clarity in 2013!

  2. isabelle

    Excellent blog Grace ! thanks to bring up all these, very instructive and helpful.Have a nice week !

    • Grace Marshall

      Glad you found it useful Isabelle, and thank you for taking the time to comment!

  3. Judy Goldberg

    Great blog and summary Grace! Thank you!

Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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