Join John Ullmen for an in-depth discussion in this video Establish priorities and focus, part of Executive Leadership.
- When Steve Jobs returned as CEO of Apple and paved the way for its era of revolutionary success, he'd conduct annual retreats with key leaders and on the last day he would ask, "What are the 10 things we should be doing next?" After lengthy, vigorous debate, he would capture the group's list of 10 things on a whiteboard. Then, he would cross off the bottom seven and say, "We can only do three." Jobs is not alone in this thinking. It's why Jim Collins, one of the most influential leadership thinkers of his era said, "If you have more than three priorities, "then you don't have any." Executive leaders must establish priorities and focus effort.
Here's how to do it. First, be a persistent prioritizer. There are a thousand and more ways every day that you and your people, despite great intentions, can waste time and lose ground. We're constantly tempted to turn our attention away from where it matters most by things that seem urgent but aren't, and that give us a temporary surge of satisfaction for at least doing something. But, activity alone isn't progress and moving forward on what matters less is time and effort lost. Real progress is priority-based progress.
Separate the seemingly urgent from the truly important by prioritizing. Clarify what matters most in this meeting, project, or discussion. Then, act accordingly. Second, be a top three leader. The top three priorities should be clear and explicit at every level in the organization. Get aligned with your manager about what your top three priorities are. And, for each of your direct reports, insist they set top three priorities for their team, for each team member, and for themselves.
Ask your people what their top three priorities are and how they're doing on them. Ask what their team's top three priorities are and how the team is doing on each of them. If your people are unclear, coach them toward understanding the difference between urgent and important, between short-term distractions and strategic priorities. Now, is three a magic number? No, it's better than that. It's a practical number that drives focus. If you have a top three, you can be more decisive, energizing, set clearer direction, empower more effectively, and so can your people.
For example, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, looking back at a critical phase of his company's success said, "I attribute most of our growth over the past few years "to the fact that we invested time, money and resources "in three key areas; "customer service, company culture "and employee training and development." Some people might object that there are more than three things to do, and that's true. But the question remains, which are your most important? Which are your top three? In the real world, you can't do everything, but you can focus on the most important things.
All this implies something that's difficult for many of us, but a crucial executive duty. Learn to say "no." Near the end of his life, Steve Jobs said, "Deciding what not to do is as "important to deciding what to do." That's true for companies, and it's true for products. He continued, "It's only by saying no that you can "concentrate on the things that are really important." Just like Jobs, executive leaders need a mindset shift from doing things right to doing the right things. Be clear, be strong.
Focus your people on what to do and what not to do. Be a persistent prioritizer, and a top three leader. Consistently ask yourself and challenge others, "What are your top three priorities, in order?"
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- Understanding the four disciplines of executive leadership
- Thinking strategically
- Creating shared purpose
- Inspiring confidence—even under pressure
- Motivating and communicating
- Establishing priorities and focus
- Leading change
- Developing yourself<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.