One of the biggest inhibitors to success as a leader, especially an SME leader, is an inability to push back against the daily flow of irrelevant and generally useless information that hits the desk and the devices.
One of our Vistage USA speakers, Herb Meyer, refers to the exponential growth in the availability of data with a corresponding inability to take it all in and to use it effectively.
He makes the point, very strongly, that there is now a vast amount of data that needs to be selected and appropriately filtered to transform it into information.
At this stage it needs to be considered, re-filtered, assessed and then re-issued as intelligence on which we can take action.
Because of the virtually limitless amount if data available searching and assessing it is no longer a purely management function.
It manifestly requires detailed and specialist treatment to derive a flow of relevant intelligence to assist the leadership of a business to make sensible and considered decisions.
Over the years I have encouraged members of my Vistage CEO peer groups to focus on that which is important, not urgent and to set, as far as possible, no more than four priorities for attention by the leader.
These priorities must be communicated to the top team and must be treated as sacrosanct; in other words nothing must get in the way of completion.
It takes considerable strength of will on the part of the leader to push back against upward delegation, against the flow of over intrusive irrelevancies and against hidden agendas.
So far, so good. If the leader can achieve four genuine priorities each month then that would be a significant accomplishment.
However people being people there can always be a temptation to select easily achieved priorities so how about starting the process with this question?
“What is the ONE number or activity that matters above all else?”
To rewrite that statement, how about defining your absolute priority for the business as; “what is the one factor that can make or break the business?”
If you can achieve that commercial nirvana, the state of mind that transcends personal suffering and induces complete peace, then you are likely to have achieved even more.
Not only will you be focusing on what is really important for the business but you will also be closer to understanding the purpose of the enterprise.
The function of the leader is to keep that sense of purpose firmly in the consciousness if everyone in the business and to achieve the engagement of all the employees.
Harvard Professor Theodore Levitt used to say that if you don't know where you are going then any road will take you there.
People need to know the answers to two personally vital questions:
“How am I doing and where are WE going?”
The personal question is a matter of empathetic feedback for everyone in the enterprise and this needs to be delivered on a regular basis not left to the annual appraisal.
However the question which applies exclusively to the business and indeed all the stakeholders in it is "where are we going?".
It is the role of the leader to define and communicate the purpose and the objectives of the business over the short and long term.
That needs to involve the setting of four priorities for the business each month together with the overarching "make or break" factor.
To that needs to be added regular measurements of achievement communicated at all levels in the business.
Communicate those factors to the people in the business and see how the sense of engagement will be enhanced simply because people will feel personally involved.
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