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.