#BeX: Making Prioritization a Priority

The questionnaireWhen I take on too much, I often accomplish less. The challenge is knowing when to say yes, and when to say no. I often find myself falling into the “taking on too much” trap. It is easy to multi-task while leading conference calls, conducting one-on-one meetings, and leading operational working sessions. The end result is I end up giving less than 100% of my focus to participants on a call and/or less than 100% of my focus to discussion topics in meetings. No one wins and my work product is anything but extraordinary. As a leader, you must sift through the many things that demand your time. You must discern not only the things that need to be done, but also the things that do not need to be done. Identify and delegate the things that can be done by others. As you delegate tasks, activities, projects, and responsibilities to others, you empower the team to impart their knowledge and expertise and to demonstrate their ability to get things done. As the leader, you will not be great at everything. The reality is that when you try to be great at everything, you are great at nothing. Your fully exploited strengths and abilities are those things needed by the business to generate results. It takes a great deal of self-awareness and humility to recognize that others with whom you work bring skills, knowledge, and ability to the team that may far exceed your own.

From a team development perspective, there is a finite amount of time in a day, week, month, or year to provide in-depth coaching, mentoring, and development to individuals. In addition to the team, many high-octane leaders are asked by others inside and outside the organization to be a mentor or coach. This is flattering and, at the same time, can be a source of stress. There is limited time to spend one-on-one with a large number of individuals, especially when balancing your own business and personal priorities. As your career progresses, there is even less time to coach, mentor, and guide others in a unique fashion. How do you continue to find the time to impact individuals, without losing focus on your own professional and personal priorities?

The reality is that most of us are in the people business. It is very easy to get caught up in the next meeting, the next customer presentation, the next sales pitch, the next performance review, and the next top-to-top meeting. However, we must take time out to coach and mentor others. We must find time and, in a finite way, invest in the careers of others so that we are making a positive difference with others seeking to pursue extraordinary.

It takes a great deal of self-awareness to recognize when you are spreading yourself too thin across competing priorities. The reality is that it is just not possible to carve out and spend time with everyone that is looking for a career mentor or coach. Instead of saying no to everyone, find time to say yes to just a few people in a way that allows you to stay true to your personal and professional values, beliefs, and responsibilities while still helping others.

BRINGING IT TO LIFE ◙◙ Test Yourself: How many requests of your time do you receive in a given week? How do you prioritize . . . or do you even prioritize? How do you decide where to invest your time and talents as a leader, while saying “no” to other requests in a way that does not burn a relationship bridge?

◙◙ Focus On The Right Things For You: I love jumping into the details of day-to-day activities, even when the ball is not being dropped. That’s because I feel I can make an impact and drive change quickly. The reality is that, when I do this, I am giving my organization permission to not own these responsibilities. Furthermore, they have no opportunity to learn if I am always doing their work. The less I jump into day-to-day process details, the more I allow individual contributors to accomplish. And, of course, that frees me up to focus on strategic issues and clearing roadblocks to my organization’s progress. By doing my team’s job for them, I am essentially taking away the opportunity for them to learn, grow, and succeed. If you were to set up a model, allocating your salary to different activities you are involved with on a daily basis, which activities would “cost” the most? What are the things you are able to easily accomplish, yet are challenging, difficult, or impossible to others? What parts of your job energize, charge, fuel, or motivate you to achieve the extraordinary? What do you wish you could stop doing? If you could free up time in your schedule today, what would you most likely eliminate? Which activities consume the majority of your time? Are these activities that only you can do or that can they be owned by members of your team?

◙◙ Recognize And Delegate: Your weakness may be another team member’s strength. Divide the work to take full advantage of team competencies. Start by recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of your team. Where possible, delegate efforts that sit squarely on your weaknesses and lean into your strong skill areas. As a leader building a team, you should be looking to bring together a balanced team that offers multiple strengths to create a collaborative organization. What is on your plate right now that should be delegated to someone else?

◙◙ Make It Tactical: When providing career development advice to others, it is just as important to think about the big picture as it is to be aware of the tactical considerations. I recently asked one of my team members what he would like to do next in his career. He outlined for me what he would absolutely love to be doing. As I listened, I immediately went into ideation mode, thinking about all of the possible next steps for this individual. I thought of contacts that could be made on his behalf, skill sets that he has today that would make him a valued resource to a new team, and skills that he should develop to prepare for the next move. We had only worked together for a few months, but my natural instinct was to tactically think about what would be an ideal opportunity for him, even as he was performing in a positive, value-added way on his current team. Understanding the tactical details help when matching people and capabilities to strategic projects and initiatives. Do you know what an ideal next step role would be for someone you are leading? Are you helping to prepare them for it, even though the timing may not be quite right?

◙◙ Fairness Is Not A Strategy: “That’s not fair!” Like you, I’ve heard this comment from many a child and even a few business colleagues. Life is not fair. There is no way that a leader can treat everyone equally. Fairness is not a leadership strategy. Some leaders bail out on doing anything for anyone because they fear that it is not fair to do for just one what they wish they could do for everyone. The reality is that the best leaders don’t treat everyone equally, but rather differentiate based on individual needs. Demonstrate your passion or desire to make an impact with just a few individuals in spite of wishing you could do the same for all. If everyone would do for one or a few what they wish they could do for all, can you imagine the impact it would have on the overall organization? ◙◙ Long-Term, In-Depth: An extraordinary coach or mentor prioritizes the coachee in their schedule. They engage for the long-term, and value in-depth knowledge and understanding of the individual. Don’t become the kind of person who claims that they are coaching or mentoring others, and yet cannot tell you anything about their coachees beyond what they are doing in their current role. Clearly, these people have not invested in the individual. Are you engaged with the people you are coaching? Is it evident from the time you spend with them and your knowledge of them?