Hardly does a leader set out to fail. Many a leader, on assumption of office, is brimming with energy and vision of what to do and how to go about actualizing his vision with the hope of ensuring great good to the people and the organization he leads. He has everything worked out with the timeline attached. He wants to touch lives. He wants to inspire his people. He wants to turn around the organization. He wants to positively impact the environment. He wants to leave a mark. He wants to build a legacy. He wants his tenure to become a reference point for all that is good.
But as it often turns out, the leader loses momentum shortly after getting into office. As he settles down to work and get immersed in his official schedule, he gets so engrossed in the business of running the organization that what he had lined up as the specific changes he wants to effect in the organization get shoved to the background. The leader is so entangled in managing the day to day challenges that he hardly has time to spare for the consideration of his original target, plan and vision.
This is the undoing of many leaders. A leader who gets bogged down by the daily challenges of his organization will not get much done; he will not stand out; he cannot rise above mediocrity. He will lend credence to the credo that the more things change the more they remain the same. Managing daily or routine issues is not the business of the leader; that is something for line managers or lower level officers to handle. The leader should concern himself more with those activities that have great consequences for the organization, not run of the mill chores.
Success as a leader is hinged on setting priorities
Without prioritizing his activities, a leader will soon realize that he spends quality time on non-essential duties. Making the main issue the main issue is the main task of a leader. A leader is supposed to be guided by the big picture, which is where the organization is headed, not where it is. Routine chores are indicative of the organization’s present situation. For the present situation to transform into what is envisioned by the leader originally, he has to extricate himself from the prison of the present and work towards bringing his vision to reality. Until the leader constantly keeps the big picture in focus, he is unable to differentiate between activities that have lasting effects and trivial ones. The impact made by a leader is directly proportional to his ability to make the big picture his focus.
A Zen Master and his students
One day a Zen master took his students out on arrow shooting exercise. When they arrived at their destination, he told his students that he was going to shoot at a particular target. He then instructed them to cover his eyes with a cloth. With his eyes covered, he shot the arrow. When he opened his eyes, he saw that he had missed the target. His students were too disappointed to look straight at him.
The Zen master asked them, “What lesson do you think I intend to teach you all today?”
“We thought you wanted to show us how to shoot at the target without looking at it,” the students responded.
The Zen master then said, “No, I taught you that if you want to be successful in life, don’t forget the target. I missed the target because I was not looking at it. My focus was not the target. With my eyes covered, I looked away from the target. You have to keep your eye on the target. You have to stay focused. If you look away from the target, you stand the risk of missing a good opportunity. Don’t ever forget that one of the most important principles of success is staying focused.”
Four categories of activity
Former President Dwight Eisenhower of the United States of America categorized activities into four. Known as Eisenhower Decision Matrix, the categorization has helped millions of people to channel their energies into activities that result in all-round progress.
Urgent and important
Activities that are urgent and important are those that the leader must attend to immediately. They are those activities that are crucial and critical to the business of the organization. Delaying them may be counterproductive. Tasks such as these are not delegated by the leader but must be attended to by him to ensure that they do not go awry. However, Eisenhower was of the opinion that “what is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
Urgent but not important
Activities that fall into this category are such that, though may be time-bound, are not essential to the overall objectives of the organization. Such activities should be delegated and should not be allowed to eat into the time of the leader.
Important but not urgent
If an issue is important but not urgent, it means that the leader can stay action on it. Though this may be an activity that could positively affect the fortune of the organization, since there is no urgency attached to it, it should be kept in view until the time is right to act on it.
Not important, not urgent
Activities that fall into this category are such that the leader needs not bother about. They are chores that can be ignored; they are activities which do not add real value to the existence or objectives of the organization. Such activities may be disregarded or at best delegated. If a task is neither important nor urgent of what value is it to a leader or his organization?
Determining the value of a task
To determine whether a task is worthy of a leader’s attention or not the following questions should be asked and answered.
What are the most important things I must achieve to be regarded as a success?
A leader must be able to answer this all-important question. What are those things that will define his leadership and tenure? What are those things that, irrespective of what else he does, without doing them he might be regarded as a failure? Those are the things he should concern himself with. Whatever does not fall into this category should not be given the benefit of his time.
What gives me the highest return on my time?
A leader should also answer the question: What are those things that give me highest returns? Knowing and separating activities that provide the highest level of returns from the rest is the beginning of wisdom for the leader.
The Pareto Principle
According to Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, 80 per cent of an organization’s revenue is generated by 20 per cent of its activities while 80 per cent of its activities produce only 20 per cent of its revenue. This is what is known as the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 Rule. This principle has been found to be true in almost all spheres of life. It is therefore essential that a leader identifies the 20 per cent that produces the 80 per cent and ensures that it gets priority attention.
The leader can even take this further by finding the 20 per cent of the 20 percent which produces the 80 percent. This will be the four per cent that produces the 64 per cent. By concentrating on the four percent which yields 64 per cent result, the leader will not only be optimizing his time and other resources, he will also be positioning his organization for maximum benefits from his activities.
What are the benefits?
Are there benefits attached to the performance of the task? If the leader is convinced that carrying out the activity is beneficial to the organization he should go ahead and do it. If there are no serious benefits attached to it, there is no point traveling that route. However, the more important the benefit is to the organization, the more important the task is.
What would happen if I didn’t do it?
Are there consequences for ignoring the activity? If there are no consequences for this, the activity is not worth the time of the leader. He should get someone else to do it.
What am I ultimately trying to accomplish?
The leader should also be able to answer the question of what his objective is by engaging in the activity. He should also be able to determine how doing this fits into his goals? If there is no correlation between the leader’s goal and the expected outcome of the activity, going through with it will be a wrong use of time.
One other thing that a leader has to take care of in a bid to prioritize his activities is time management. Some experts prefer to call this self or life management but there is no difference between time and life management. Life is calibrated in seconds, minutes, hours and days. In other words, life is measured in time. So, if a person is able to manage his time well, he has already managed his life well. Hence, the proverb, if you lose an hour in the morning, you will spend the rest of the day looking for it.
Experts have said that to make the most of one’s time, it is best to have a list of all one wants to accomplish in a year. This is called a yearly list. Items on this list are to be divided into months; this is called the monthly list. From the monthly list, the weekly list is generated, while daily list is generated from the weekly list.
By generating a list of all the major tasks he has to undertake on a daily basis, a leader is forced to channel his energy to what is important. With that he avoids the trap of chasing shadows and devoting time to activities of little or no relevance to his overall goal. With that, it is easy for a leader to track his activities and find out before it is too late how close to or far away from the realization of his vision he is.
There is just a thin line between failure and success. To avoid failure, the leader has to get his priority right.