We're already a week into the New Year and I'm guessing like most people the wheels on your goals for this year have already started to come off the tracks, if not been derailed completely.
The busyness of the day-to-day of leading a complex business in a complex industry in a complex geopolitical environment in a complex time (there's a theme here, right?) causes most leaders to get sucked into the weeds of their organization almost daily, if not hourly. And while there is a general shift in the zeitgeist toward mindfulness, being present and trying to avoid the vortex of cell phone and social media distraction, there's a very specific application when it comes to your leadership.
Years ago in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, leadership guru Stephen Covey popularized the practice of assigning an urgency and level of importance to each of the tasks or projects on your to-do list. This allowed leaders to determine if something was worth devoting their time to (our biggest customer is about to pull their business, urgent and important) or ignoring at least for a while (restructuring your filing system, not urgent and arguably not important).
The challenge with implementing such a theoretically simple practice is that today's always on, doors open, dare I say it collaborative workplace coupled with most leader's false understanding on where their value comes from means that almost everything falls into the urgent and important quadrant.
As a result, I see too many leaders lurching from crisis to crisis, putting out fires and otherwise saving the day through unnecessary acts of heroism.
This is problematic for three reasons:
1. You don't develop your people.
When you're constantly acting in firefighting mode, you begin to develop learned helplessness in your team. Over time you condition then to respond to all crises (no matter how small) by getting you involved. At it's very worst, like a tenant in a rental property with a leaky pipe they kick the problem over to you without even so much as an attempt to fix it.
2. You get burned out.
All those acts of heroism sure are exhausting. Of course, at first it feels good. You get an ego boost, you feel needed. Slowly, however, as the learned helplessness kicks in and you're always out saving the day, you start to get tired, then the resentment kicks in and eventually you get burned out. Frustrated that the buck always stops with you, that you're the one saving victory from the jaws of defeat and that everyone around you is slacking.
3. You neglect the true value you bring as a leader.
Most importantly is the fact that when all your time is spent on the Urgent and Important, you neglect those areas where you can add the most value, those activities that lie in the Important but Not Urgent. Rather than running around like Jack Bauer you should spend your time on medium to long-term planning, developing your people, listening to your customers, walking around the shop floor with no real agenda. This is where you really add value to your organization.
My one desire for you as a leader in 2019 is to stop making everything a crisis, to spend more time focused on the important but not urgent and to use all other 'interruptions' as an opportunity to develop your people.
Stay tuned for some practical ways to make this mindset shift this year and get back to doing what you do best.