Monday, June 13, 2016

How Do Leaders Prioritize? Part #2

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!

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, June 6, 2016

How Do Leaders Prioritize? Part #1

Last fall, I had the opportunity to sit down with a group of young leaders and engage in an extended Q&A session about leadership and organizational change. It was a lively and very thought-provoking afternoon. In the middle of our time together, I got asked the following question: “How do leaders prioritize?”

I replied by asking a clarifying question, “Operational priorities or strategic priorities?”

Their response was “Both!”

My first thought as I pondered the question was a quote by the late Stephen R. Covey: “To set and work toward any goal is an act of courage.”
Here was my initial response. 

“First, I know that defining priorities is not a linear process but instead a more dynamic process with multiple things happening at once. 

Second, discernment, which is the first step to defining priorities, happens when there is a framework that is guiding the organization and the person. 

Third, successful leaders understand that defining a priority is not the same as actually executing a priority. It is the later that makes the former a true priority.”

The hard part about defining priorities is that we, as leaders, need to balance the focus on short term results with the constant pressure to position the company for the future. Understanding the complexity of this balancing act makes a major difference when prioritizing.

Still, the big question is: How do leaders actually do it?

The simple answer is that they have a framework for thinking through what is happening. This framework comes from their understanding of the strategic nexus, their interaction with their boss, and their past experiences. Yet at the core of this framework is a drive for excellence.

At this core of excellence is an innate drive to constantly want to get better. It overrides any measure of mediocrity, complacency, or even failure. It means adjusting to normal changes with technical precision and artful grace so that every client or customer has a mission driven experience. 

Our job as leaders is to teach and reinforce this core of excellence, and to help others distinguish between excellence and non-excellence. I recognize that working from this place is harder in the beginning. It requires dialogue, education, over-communication, coaching and constant reinforcing clarity. At times, “my way or the highway” would be faster but in the end, it is not better.

This week, reflect on whether or not you and your team are working from this core of excellence.  If so, support all people who are moving in the right direction. If not, build it. This foundation is mission critical to prioritizing.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257