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, which greatly reduces overhead commitments but produces challenges of its own.

Coordinating people and projects in a virtual working environment can be difficult.  That’s why my clients implement the QuietSpacing(tm) method as a means for improving their effectiveness and efficiency with both employees and clients.  Many times, during our last few conversations, we begin connecting the relationship between leadership and productivity, a subject near and dear to my heart.

Leadership in the Modern World

More specifically, my position is that to remain effective today, a new element must be added to the leadership discussion:  Productivity – the kind that relates to getting things done at all levels.  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 nation, if not the globe, 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 and vigilant to 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 this new world order of virtual enterprises.

  • Vision.  This is the broadest statement an organization can make about itself.  It describes its over-arching purpose for existence.  Whether it be a brief statement or a manifesto, understanding and reinforcing a enterprise’s vision is one of most important things a leader does.  For example, my vision for QuietSpacing(tm) is to help smart people work better. Simple but clear, right?
  • 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 individually.  The responsibility for accomplishing specific action plans is often delegated to managers and others who report to the leader.
  • Execution.   This is where the rubber meets the road.  Execution is what most people consider productivity – where things actually got done.  However, as you can see from above, it’s just the last step in a process designed to achieve a very high-level objective. Everyone is charged with some amount of execution in every organization, but often leaders get too involved in the execution mechanics of others instead of focusing on the components of execution most relevant to their role.

Utilizing these basic definitions gives leaders (and others, for that matter) a working understanding of the architecture of getting the organization from A to Z.

Meshing The Components Together

Generally, my work with executives and professionals is focused on getting their individual efforts finely tuned to maximize productivity.  However, the underlying reason for this effort is to foster their leadership effectiveness for the organization.  As we draw near the end of our time together, conversations often turn to how their newly-developed skills can be applied to achieve these goals.  My advice is always quite simple and straight-forward.  I tell clients that whenever they’re reviewing the various tasks at hand, the best way to eliminate/prioritize/delegate them is to ask this question:

How does this task advance the organization’s objectives.

A way to further personalize the question is to ask, “How is what I’m doing advance the ______ of the organization?” To complete the blank, insert one or more of the primary objectives of your role.  Thus, for a leader, the analysis is to determine how their actions are advancing the company’s vision or strategy, which are two of the most important objectives leaders must achieve.  

Though all actions 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 ultimately advance the organization’s vision and strategy, but the actual “doing” of the many is best delegated down the chain of command for completion. The net result is that the leaders 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 work days in the modern world.  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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