Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great, says: “Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great.” As a leader, there are many things that clamor for your time…and many of them are good things. But what are the right things to be working on?
We find that in our work with leaders, especially business owners, they are overwhelmed trying to work on too many things. Pressure mounts…work hours increase…and frustration grows. When you begin peeling things back in a coaching session, it turns out they aren’t working on the right stuff.
What is the right stuff? It depends. What is your role as a leader?
For example, if you are a business owner, here are typical responsibilities at the top of your list:
- Develop and work your business plan…to produce results—succeed in the marketplace
- Manage risk
- Manage finances and company resources
- Supervise your team, which includes hiring, training, etc.
- Marketing and advertising
- Sales of products and services
- Communicate effectively internally and externally
- Respond to clients
While there is more that could be added, this likely includes the highest priorities. In fact, in any leadership role, many of these responsibilities will apply in some way.
As a leader, determine your role. Within your role, what are those things that are especially important for you to do—and do well? Realize among those highest priority tasks the things that only you may be able to do or drive.
For example, as a business owner, developing and working your business plan can involve others, but the business owner must drive or delegate the task. If you don’t, chances are no one else will. How will you lead this effort? If you don’t carve out time to think about, develop, and change your business plan you may find yourself in trouble.
Some years ago, I interviewed Fred Bills who owned Nelson Wood Shims for my book, Bold Leadership: Biblical Principles for Marketplace Impact. Fred was losing business to China because China could produce wood shims at a lower cost. Fred could see that if he didn’t do something his business would quickly lose market share. Fred asked his team to help solve the problem. An employee who was hunting saw a particular type of tree and wondered if it might be a good option for making shims. Turns out that the wood worked very well and ultimately helped Fred maintain market share.
A more current example is Keith Estes, President of Century Commercial Services. With the advent of LED lighting, Keith could see that if he didn’t diversify his business model, he would eventually lose market share. Ultimately, he launched different services that helped him grow.
In both examples, the business owners were doing several key things.
1st: They were paying attention to the heartbeat of their companies and could see that their business model was threatened.
2nd: They engaged in strategic thinking to identify potential solutions. In both cases, they asked their teams to help.
3rd: As they envisioned a different future, they engaged members of the team to help bring the vision to life. Communicating the rationale and potential benefit to their teams enabled building commitment for the change.
4th: In the new process, finances and other resources had to be tracked and managed.
While there is more, you can see that these owners made choices about what was the ‘right stuff’ to work on. They could have chosen to spend time on other good things but at the expense of their businesses. Among the various tasks done by these owners, some were of higher priority than others at any given point in time.
So, you don’t own a business?
The fact remains that there are some tasks that you are responsible for and critical that you do well. For example, all leaders play a role in managing risk.
An example of this is that during a previous career, I encountered a personnel issue that had a significant potential risk if not handled properly. The easy way would have been to let things go because the offended employee said she accepted an apology from her coworker and didn’t want further action. Given the risk, I took a different approach. Some years later, this incident came up in Federal court as a part of a bigger allegation. As it turned out, the action I took at the time turned out to be the right decision and resulted in a dismissal of the case.
The point here is that regardless of your leadership role, work on the right stuff. Sure, there are many things you need to do and/or want to do and many of them are good, but what are the highest priority tasks at this point in time? Do them—and chances are that you’ll be working on the ‘right stuff’!
For the Faith-Based:
” For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.”
Proverbs 2:6-10 ESV