Productive Leadership: A Simple Test For Action

Last week I was talking with a client who is the CEO of a burgeoning online content company. His ranks have grown rapidly and his team is distributed across the United States. The company is truly virtual – a structure that greatly reduces overhead commitments but produces challenges of its own.

Coordinating people and projects in a virtual working environment can be difficult. My consulting work with executives and professionals is focused on maximizing their individual productivity. However, the underlying reason for this effort is to foster their leadership effectiveness. As we draw near the end of our time together, conversations often turn to how their newly-developed productivity skills can be applied to achieve this over-arching goal.

Leadership in the Modern World

To remain effective today, leaders must add Productivity – the kind that relates to getting things done at every level – to their leadership skill set. In days gone by, in organizations other than the truly large, companies were relatively local with most executives, managers and employees working in one or, at most, a few locations. Most team members were near at hand and a leader’s effectiveness was largely related to physical presence and the ability to communicate face-to-face.

The greatest modern-day change to this scenario is that any company can now be distributed across a large geographic area, just as the multi-nationals have been for years. The result is that leaders who used to command their ranks physically have to now think harder about some of the key components of productivity to be effective over a distributed working environment.

The Key Components to Productivity

To be productive in this new model, leaders must be mindful of the four key components to getting things done: Vision, Strategy, Tactics, and Execution. At the risk of being pedantic, here’s a brief overview of each component, followed by a discussion of their application in the virtual enterprise.

  • Vision. This is the broadest statement an organization can make about itself. It describes the purpose the organization existences. Whether it is a brief statement or a manifesto, understanding and reinforcing the enterprise’s vision is one of most important things a leader does. A leader’s primary objective is to guide the organization towards achieving its Vision.
  • Strategy. With Vision in hand, a plan for affecting it must be created. This is where Strategy enters the picture. Linking together all the various efforts for achieving the organization’s Vision is the company’s Strategy. Engaging in the development and coordination of the business’s Strategy also fits into a leader’s primary job description.
  • Tactics. These are the specific plans laid out for each component of the Strategy to achieve the Vision. Where Strategy is about coordinating all the plans, Tactics involve affecting each plan. The responsibility for accomplishing specific action plans will often be delegated to managers and others who report to the leadership ranks.
  • Execution. This is where the rubber meets the road. Execution is what most people consider productivity – where things actually get done. However, as you can see from above, it’s just the last step in a process designed to achieve an intended result. Everyone is charged with some amount of Execution in every organization, but often leaders get too involved in the efforts of others instead of focusing on the components of Execution most relevant to their role – Vision and Strategy.

Utilizing these basic definitions gives leaders a working understanding of the architecture of getting the organization from A to Z.

Meshing These Components Together

Whenever you’re reviewing the various tasks at hand, the best way to eliminate/prioritize/delegate them is to ask this question:

How does ________ advance the organization’s objectives for which I am responsible?

Thus, for a leader, the analysis is to determine how their actions are advancing the company’s Vision or Strategy – the two most important objectives leaders must achieve.

Though all activities should past muster under this analysis, things not directly related to Vision and Strategy should, as a rule, be delegated to other people in the organization. Consequently, all efforts will ultimately advance the organization’s Vision and Strategy, but the actual doing of most will be affected down the chain of command. The net result is that the leader remains focused on accomplishing their primary objectives while managing those of others.

Staying Focused in the Fray

Leaders today are pulled to and fro during our hectic modern work days. With many demands on their time, it’s important to develop a method for weeding out the unimportant and focusing directly on those efforts that best achieve the organization’s Vision and Strategy. The model set out above is simple to understand and simple to apply. It gives leaders a solid tool for achieving success.

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