by Peter A. Arthur-Smith, Leadership Solutions, Inc.®
“Talent and hard work are important, but most top performers in Business have one thing in common. They accept fewer tasks and then obsess over them.” Morten T. Hansen, WSJ Review article –January 13-14, 2018
We’re so bound-up in our puritanical culture and the ingrained habits of the industrial age: work harder, work harder…We’re also so caught-up in the need for our off-spring to be occupied every moment of their time; just in case they should go astray. Moreover, we’re so trapped by a treadmill that “time means money,” such that we don’t know the difference between money and smart money.
But, stop, think for a moment. Think about all the times we’ve wasted chasing a few dimes or pennies. Think about the many tasks we’ve pursued, where we we’ve just been spinning our wheels. Think also about the many issues we’ve tried to resolve, but just ended up going around and around in circles. And, not least, just think about all the many pointless hours we’ve worked to no useful end, just to make ourselves feel or look busy.
Hansen, a professor at University of California, Berkley, shared the following: “The common practice we found among the highest ranked performers in our study wasn’t at all what we expected. It wasn’t a better ability to organize or delegate. Instead, top performers mastered selectivity.” Your writer has also noted this characteristic among top leaders. They spend more time thinking than doing. That way they get thousands of others to all the doing. No wonder Einstein pointed out: “There’s no expedient that man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking.” The majority love to “do” rather than “think.”
So those who enjoy the art of thinking and channel it in the right direction through selectivity are the ones who come out on top. This writer can think of more than one example of leaders, who appeared to have all the time in the world, and yet were enormously successful. They knew what was the most important thing for them to spend time on at any given moment. And these were people who weren’t handed that much at the outset of their careers.
For their regular observers, however, there were times when those special leaders really obsessed about certain things: until either they fully understood them or could make a selective decision about them. Once they had decision clarity, they then found someone to take care of the issue for them – one of their trusted friends or executives. They were rather careful about choosing the people around them. Assuming that friend or executive met their standards, (s)he would be questioned until they came to the same conclusion as our selectivity-masters and then they were empowered to proceed. Such focused behavior is what true leaders are made of. They are not so much the doers, but the thinkers, questioners and empowerers.
One other maxim they would also apply is Occam’s razor, which stipulates that the best explanation for everything is usually the simplest one. Why is that? Because people generally act upon the simplest ideas, probably for reasons related to Einstein’s quote used earlier. Even so, there’s one caveat. The simplest solution is often the one that needs the most thought to divine. Most people, including this writer, are prone to act upon the first idea that pops into their head…How many times do we get caught out in such a fever? It saves us the headache of thinking.
Moreover, your writer recently encouraged a fast moving and talented executive to take a long weekend out every six to eight weeks. It would consist of Friday to decompress, Saturday to start recovery, Sunday to chill out with family or friends, and Monday – with clear-headed thinking – to use her sharp mind to give thought to crucial, strategic issues. That would put her in a powerful position to brief and steer senior colleagues and her own team members on Tuesday. She clearly understood the point, but felt her nature would never allow her to take it up. Pity for her and her company.
So here you are as a promising leader, be that as a team-leader, strategic leader, or a visionary leader, wishing to be a major contributor within your organization. Do you pile on the work hours, knowing that would be the politically correct thing to do, or do you dramatically increase your thinking time? One thing you have to be prepared for is that your brain is rather like the rest of your body, it can tend to ache somewhat at the outset when you start to utilize it more often. Perhaps that’s why the faint of heart don’t pursue deeper thinking any more after a short attempt? They get a headache.
But for those of us who really want to become enlightened leaders, we have to consider the following pointers:
» Set aside regular strategic time. Working through strategies takes serious time. It’s not something you can do on the fly. The day-to-day hustle and bustle doesn’t allow for this. You need to set aside quality time in your calendar every month, 6 weeks or two months toward developing a more macro-view. Such clarity will reward you and your organization in spades.
» Be selective about what you focus on. Take a leaf out of highly successful people’s books and be much more selective about what you focus on. Three items at once, is probably a maximum…preferably only one. It easily becomes unwieldy to do more.
» Don’t mix operational and strategic decisions together. Too many organizations do this: they jumble them together. Not only does it take a different mindset to make decisions for one or the other; strategic issues usually take longer and deeper thought. Operations are about today: strategy is about tomorrow.
» Leadership is about empowering others: whereas management is about controlling others. If you have too many others around you who need to be controlled, then you have the wrong team.
» In the same way that you learnt to drive a car: where you were very conscious about every step, and then those steps became fluent and intuitive. You have to take the same approach in adjusting your decision-making behaviors as a leader. Those steps are listed above.
Closing with another line from Hansen’s article: “So much in our workplaces is premised on the conventional wisdom that hard work is the road to success, and that working hardest makes you a star. Our analysis suggests the opposite.” It’s about selectivity, not working harder.
To learn more about decision-clarity, talk with: