Prioritizing work at the operational level or the strategic level can be very complex and involve balancing lots of factors. The best leaders start this process in a unique way. They understand that every day we can work from our circle of concern, our circle of influence, or our circle of focus, referencing the work of the late Stephen Covey. Working from our circle of focus helps us prioritize.
At the same time, we also need to “distinguish between determinations and concentrations.” As Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill and Rebecca R. Merrill point out in their book, First Things First (Simon & Schuster, 1994), determinations are “things you’re determined to do, no matter what.” As they explain, “When you set a determination, you put your integrity on the line…. This is when it’s vital to follow through, to keep your commitment, to do what you said you were going to do…. The only valid reason for not sticking to a determination would be if you became thoroughly convinced - through conscience and deep self-awareness - that the “best” goal you set had for some reason become only “good. Then, and only then, could you change with integrity.”
Concentrations, on the other hand, are “areas of pursuit you focus your efforts around.” As they note, “When you set a concentration, you identify an area where you desire to focus time and energy…. you don’t risk your integrity…. If you don’t do it, you lose the benefit of the time and energy invested…”
With the above in mind, how does one execute priorities?
First, drawing on the work of Scott Eblin in his book, The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2011), some days you are the “keeper of what,” and other days you are the “master of how.” I agree with Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan who explained that “execution is a discipline.” The key for us is to recognize that clarity is the foundation of execution and it begins with a combination of what to focus on and when it needs to get done plus how to do it so it is in alignment with the strategic nexus
Second, the best leaders pay attention to their peers, not just who they report to or who reports to them. As we all are realizing, collaboration is more and more mission critical given the emerging adaptive problems. In essence, my success is really based on our success.
Third, effective execution includes regular, in-depth reflection. Constantly going faster and faster does not equal effectiveness. The best leaders understand that action does not equal effectiveness. Regular and in-depth reflection, notes Greg McKeown in his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Crown Business, 2014), makes sure we not just getting things done but instead getting the right things done.
With this in mind, I am going to take two weeks off from blog writing so I can do my own in-depth reflection work. I will be back in touch with all of you on July 5, 2016.
Enjoy the coming weeks!