Sustainable leaders know their work priorities. “To change your life, you need to change your priorities,” said Mark Twain, always the master of the understatement. It is I think self-evident, that to change things you need to change your priorities. But we rarely stop to consider and get caught up in the enormity of the daily challenges. We get too busy, so stretched, almost paralysed with the enormity and the multitude of the tasks ahead. We end up in an unproductive cycle, as we react to the noise rather than being proactive and effective.
I've had the privilege of leading six companies through transformational change. The task got more and more complex as the organisations I lead got larger and larger, culminating in highly complex multinationals. Yet, I increasingly learned that the answers to the issues we had, we're not in complexity they were in simplicity. Focusing an entire organisation on a few simple imperatives is incredibly powerful. It becomes your decision framework, and if communicated well your organisation decision framework. You are literally taking all those resources and applying them to a small number of critical factors. Sometimes it's what you say no to that creates productivity, as priorities become clear and resources are focused. You can literally have that key framework of simple priorities in your head. You can then filter all the decisions you have to make through a simple set of priorities.
In the great Kiwi yachting victory for Black Magic in the Americas Cup, their decision-making matrix was a simple single imperative, “will it make the boat go faster?” Every decision went through that question.
Having those work priorities simply articulated makes them easy to communicate. It also makes it easy for you to make the decisions you have to make. It becomes the ‘impersonal referee’, the agreed course of action and informs the calls you make every day. The art and the challenge is to keep it simple. Multiple stakeholders will want 1000 things from you, your job is to get consensus around the truly important imperatives. Someone once said, ‘I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn't have time”. It does take time, to think through the priorities, collaborate with others and create a simple mandate. Good is enemy of great. There’s lots of good things you can do, but what are the great ones, the ones that will actually make a difference? But when you do have focus, when you have sorted the good from the great, have clarity on what will truly give you the outcomes you're looking for, you'll have your work priorities and it will bring sustainable success.