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The Subtle Power of Simplification

In today’s rapidly changing and complex business environment, the ability of leaders to simplify work is a cornerstone to execution. Leaders can catalyze clarity of understanding, foster alignment, facilitate decision-making, and drive effective execution.

Addressing all needs is not progress:

Every organization has more areas to improve than they have resources to support all the needs. Decisions must be made to pare down priorities to a manageable amount. This takes discipline and an understanding that when you bite off too much, everything gets harder:

  • More projects compete for the same resources.
  • Employees have to choose what to work on with their limited time.
  • Politics become a burden: people try to minimize the disappointment of leaders they put on hold while carving out minimally sufficient time to support others.
  • Inefficiency relating to starting and stopping is increased as all are juggling their time.

Indecision or taking on too much dooms an organization to mediocrity. Well-meaning leaders who cannot make tough decisions on what not to do produce futility.

The Power of Clarity

At its core, simplification is about clarity. By down-selecting numerous priorities and breaking down complex concepts into their simplest forms, they ensure that team members understand. This clarity is critical; without it, execution falters as team members struggle to grasp their roles and objectives. Steve Jobs famously said, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.” Simplification is not about reducing quality or skipping steps but about achieving clarity that manifests action.

Engaged Alignment

Simplification also aligns and engages teams. When leaders articulate goals and strategies in straightforward terms, it becomes easier for every team member to see where they fit in the larger picture. This alignment is crucial for cohesive action, especially in large and diverse organizations. Simplification also enhances engagement and alignment by clarifying a common definition of success. This clarity and engagement encourage a diversity of ideas from members who are clear on the goal and driven to execution.

Decision-Making Speed

In an era where businesses must be agile to thrive, simplification by leaders can significantly enhance decision-making speed and quality. Paralysis by analysis accompanies complex decision-making processes. Simplicity streamlines this process.  By focusing on the essential factors, leaders can make quicker decisions, adapt to changes more swiftly, and maintain momentum toward objectives. This agility is invaluable in a competitive landscape. An example is that instead of managing the 20 things that define a project, great project managers focus attention on a subset of activities that define the critical path.

A Culture of Simplification

Valuing simplification also creates a drive to continuously simplify all activities. It encourages engineers to reduce process steps, material sets, and SKUs. This directly and exponentially reduces all the possible things that can go wrong. Reducing these “fires” allows the team to focus. It promotes the reduction of bureaucracy, which increases speed and non-value-added activity. Such a culture becomes a flywheel of momentum that serves an organization deep into the future.


In conclusion, the ability to simplify is a critical leadership skill that enables more effective execution. By fostering clarity, alignment, engagement, and agility, leaders who prioritize simplification enable success. As Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” In leadership, this means that choices of what not to do are even more important than what to do. Leaders must recognize that when they take on too much, all success is threatened, as is the motivation, engagement, and sense of accomplishment of the entire team. Through simplification, leaders not only achieve better execution but also build the foundation for a resilient and adaptable organization.

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Brett Larson

Brett is a Leadership Development Professional. He has a BS in Industrial Engineering from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Colorado University. Brett has been a Leader at varying levels for 30 years and has spent much of that time developing Leaders, Leadership teams, and high-performing manufacturing operations. In 2018, Brett received his certification as a Professional Coach, and today, he helps Leaders create a climate of psychological safety that enables peak performance. His approach includes developing individual and team emotional intelligence toward creating high-performing teams based on trust, transparency, vulnerability, and authenticity. These attributes not only grow bottom-line profitability but also create an environment of mutual respect and accountability that maximizes job satisfaction and business results.