The One Phrase That Every Leader Needs

In last week’s blog, I shared that my wife and I kicked off the new year by volunteering at a spiritual development conference called “Passion 2016." The scope of the conference was impressive: 40,000 people between the ages of 18 and 25 hailing from all 50 states and 51 countries spread across three different arenas in the southern United States. This was no small undertaking. My wife and I were assigned roles on the Hospitably Team at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. It was our team’s responsibility to ensure that our venue’s volunteers, audio/visual production staff, on-stage communicators, musicians, and administrative team were properly hydrated, caffeinated, snack-i-fied, and in some cases, straight up fed. All in all there were more than 400 people we were serving in four different parts of the building ranging from the second to highest floor in the arena all the way to the basement.

With such an assignment, one might expect that our primary marching orders would have to do with the details of delivery schedules and communication processes. What we received from our leader, however, was something far simpler and more effective than any detail could provide.

Simply Put

As someone who has dedicated his professional life to understanding leadership, it is rare that I take off my leadership learning glasses. Whether observing myself at home with my family — failing there far more often than I care to admit — a shift manager when I’m out to eat at a restaurant, or sitting in an executive team meeting with a client, my radar for great leadership is almost always on. So when I heard our Hospitality Team Lead’s primary instruction for us, my inner leadership commentator immediately said, “That was great.”

Her most important message was simply this:

“Treat everyone like they are a guest in your home.”

And just like that, every member of our Hospitably Team had a clear definition of success that would influence every decision we would make for the next four days.

I can’t count the number of times that simple phrase crossed my mind during the event. See a piece of trash on the floor? Pick it up. Why? Because I wouldn’t leave trash on the floor when hosting someone in my home. (Or any other time, hopefully.) See a splatter of food dripping down a tray after someone’s gone through the line? Wipe it up. Why? Because I wouldn’t leave splattered food on the table in my house when hosting a party. See someone who appears to be searching for a particular item without success? Proactively ask them if I can help them find something and then get it for them. Why? Because I wouldn’t expect guests in my home to have to rummage through our cabinets and pantry to find something they needed.


Being clear on the most important goal for any endeavor is something leadership expert Andy Stanley calls “clarifying the win.” To do so, we must create clear messages that our followers can use to inform their choices. When we provide our followers a simple and memorable definition of success, they stand a far greater chance of hitting pay dirt in our endeavors.

It Won’t Clarify Itself

Clarifying the win is far harder than it seems at first blush. It takes thoughtfulness and intentionality. It requires us to be clear within ourselves as to what our top priorities actually are. And it almost always requires us to demote some very good goals to the back burner in favor of emphasizing what is most important.

Rarely does winging-it produce a great result when it comes to clarifying the win. If we want to do it well, we have to actually make time to think through what goal sits above all others; the goal that we would forsake all other goals in order to achieve. Then we have to invest even more time to figure out a simple and memorable way to express that goal. Though not as sexy as spearheading a new initiative or creating the organization's strategic plan, identifying ’the win’ and how to best express it is a critical capability of exceptional leaders.

What the Leader Gets

When we clarify the win well, we give those we lead a simple, memorable phrase that serves as an ever-present guide. Such a phrase facilitates execution no matter the obstacles, expected or unexpected, that may pop up. In that way, clarifying the win doesn't merely enable our followers to make great decisions; it enables us to be more effective leaders.

Next week we’ll take a look at a visual activity that shows just how important clarifying the win and communicating big picture why’s — our topics from the past two weeks — are to us as leaders.

Share Your Thoughts: As a leader, how much time do you normally put into "clarifying the win"?  Have you worked for a leader that was exceptionally good at it? Tell us about it.  We'd love to hear from you. Join the conversation by clicking here.

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