Great Leaders Understand – Clear is Kind and Unclear is Unkind

The adage ‘Clear is Kind, Unclear is Unkind’ is a relatively new concept in the world of leadership development, but has fast become adopted by many thanks to the work of Brene Brown, pioneer and expert in vulnerable leadership. In her book, Dare to Lead™, Brown talks a great deal about the importance of communicating with clarity at all times but most especially when those conversations are difficult to have. What she found while conducting a 7 year study on bravery in leadership is that most of us tend to avoid clarity under the illusion that being indirect is kinder when actually, we’re being unkind and unfair.

Brene Brown explores this further in the following ways:

  • ‘Hinting’ at the issue or telling half-truths to make someone else feel better is unkind
  • Talking about people instead of to them is unkind
  • Not setting clear expectations for others, but blaming them for not reaching them is unkind
  • Saying ‘Got it, on it’ instead of having tough conversations and gaining clarity is unkind

discussion-2 Great Leaders Understand - Clear is Kind and Unclear is UnkindIn each of the above points, we can see that what they all have in common is that while employing these strategies may seem as though we are putting the other person’s feelings before our own, we’re not. Instead, we’re trying to minimise our own discomfort with confrontation. In business, this has the tendency to be extremely detrimental because rather than resolving an issue directly, it is being talked ‘around’ and may become exacerbated. By prioritising our own emotional distress, we’re being unkind to the other person – who isn’t being given the opportunity to grow or change their behaviour – or ourselves – who will continue to endure the ramifications.


Clear is Kind

To explore this idea further, let’s break down what each statement looks like in practice. Clear is Kind. What Brown is referring to in the first half of her thesis is the idea that clarity in how we communicate is the most effective means of delivering information. There is a significant amount of focus given to this idea throughout the Dare to Lead™ program that encourages us recognise the importance of honesty when it comes to discussing difficult topics or issues. When it comes to delegating projects or tasks, the best thing you can do as a leader is to do what Brene Brown refers to as ‘painting done.’ This is simple yet effective strategy for setting up expectations that only needs to take up a few minutes during your first briefing on the task. To paint done, is to be explicit in what you’re asking someone to accomplish. You’re providing them with an exact idea of what the final result of the project will look like. This not only saves you both time in the long run, but you’ve given a clear expectation of what needs to be done. 


discussion-1 Great Leaders Understand - Clear is Kind and Unclear is UnkindUnclear is Unkind

The second piece of this statement, Unclear is Unkind, is the antithesis of Clear is Kind. Being unclear or indirect about expectations and information can have detrimental implications in the long run. In situations where we can see that a teammate has missed the mark or hasn’t performed their role to their best standard, it can be difficult to engage in a conversation about it. What tends to happen instead, is we speak ‘around’ the core of the issue or we ‘hint’ at the problem and hope that they will pick up on our disappointment. We think of ourselves as being kind in this moment because we’re trying to avoid hurting their feelings. But that isn’t necessarily the case. All we’ve really done is protect ourselves from feeling uncomfortable and it doesn’t help to resolve the situation. It’s unkind to them – they don’t know that there is an issue at all, or they don’t know the extent of it. It’s unkind to you – you will continue to be disappointed and frustrated. In the Dare to Lead™ Program, participants develop the ability to lean into what makes them uncomfortable in order to get to the heart of daring leadership.


Clarity in leadership is an integral piece of the Clarity + Capability + Contribution model that is central to The Leadership Sphere’s leadership development programs. Clarity comes first as it is foundational to both Capability and Contribution. We aim to help leaders create clarity for themselves and the people they support. It drives certainty of purpose and increases productivity. From there it is possible to develop leadership capability that enables a high trust organisation where leaders can contribute in ways that help others be the best they can be. But it starts with being clear and being kind. 

For more information about The Leadership Sphere and how we can help you unlock performance through leadership, by supporting your leaders at every level of the organisation with leadership development, executive coaching and high performance team programs please visit our website or call us on 1300 100 857.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply