In my life as a Vistage Chairman, it has become apparent to me that a great deal of business time is devoted to trivia, irrelevancies and inconsequentialities. On the other hand, far too little effort is put into assessing the real priorities in the business and devoting time and effort to them.
Too much time is spent on the urgent rather than the important. If major effort is put into solely that which is urgent, then the consequences are, almost inevitably, fire fighting.
A side issue is that emphasis on the urgent invariably begets “upward delegation” where the people don’t take responsibility for action. In other words, no decisions are taken at any level other than the top.
This will inevitably lead to a “top down” culture with the leader doing everyone’s work for them. It can develop into a “leave it to me, I’ll sort it out” approach by the leader which invariably means people back out of the decision making process.
If we consider a four-box matrix so beloved of consultants and denote the vertical axis Important with the horizontal axis as Urgent we can start to decide where the priorities lie.
It is perhaps self evident that if a task or occasion falls into the low importance, low urgency box then it doesn’t take much thought as to what action to take.
The high urgency, low importance box should be delegated and indeed should never even reach the desk of the leader.
The high importance, high urgency box demands action but not generally by the leader unless there is really business life threatening potential. Mostly this should again be delegated but keeping the leader informed as to the action taken and the results of that action.
The really significant box and the one that is the sole province of the leader is the high importance, low urgency quadrant.
The import of the high importance, low urgency situation is almost always a function of forward thinking in the business and while this is not normally the sole prerogative of the leader, in the main it is the leader who will be more able to take hold of the issue and devote some serious thinking time to it.
Leaders and managers of businesses need to take time out to decide on what is truly important and then to ensure that all other matters are delegated. However, if that freedom is to be given to managers then the quid pro quo is that they become accountable for their performance.
The leadership can then assess performance and work out ways in which it can be improved, perhaps incrementally, and how they (the leadership) can assist.
A further quid pro quo is that there must be a “no blame” culture in the business. Your people must be prepared to bring the bad news as well as the good without feeling that the messenger will be shot. We learn far more from our mistakes than from our successes.
The leader should constantly be asking the questions: What should we do more of? What should we do less of? and crucially, What should we STOP doing?
All of this takes a great leap of faith but the results can be startling. The basis is that of simplicity, elimination of complexity and emphasis on the important.
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