One of the benefits of being named as an Executive Director with the John Maxwell Team is teaching The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership to organizations using the same two-day workshop materials and format as the John Maxwell Company.
Today I’d like to discuss one of those laws, The Law of Priorities – Leaders Understand That Activity Is Not Necessarily Accomplishment. The premise is that leaders never get to a point in their careers where they no longer need to prioritize. As a management consultant and educator Peter Drucker said, “Leaders make sure the right things get done; managers make sure things get done right.”
Leaders can face some challenges when putting the Law of Priorities into practice. Leaders are always busy, yet busyness does not equal productivity. Prioritizing requires leaders to think ahead, to know what’s important, to know what’s next and to see how everything relates to the overall vision. This concurs with the part of Drucker’s statement about leaders making sure the right things get done.
Applying the Law of Priorities means a leader has to intentionally decide what to spend their time on and what to avoid. The 80/20 principle is best applied here. If you can identify 20% of the most important priorities in your role, you will likely achieve an 80% return on your effort. If your priority list has ten items, applying most of your time towards the top two items will give you an 80% return.
Here are three practical questions you can ask to help establish your priorities:
- What is Required That Only I Can Do? As a leader, certainly your time is very limited. You must ask, “What must I do that no one else can or should do?” This should result in a very short list. Things that others are better at doing should not be on your list. Things you are not naturally gifted at should not be on your list. Things that aren’t really important at this time should not be on your list. Going through this exercise at least daily can help you prioritize how you spend your time and who you spend it with, including your spouse, family, and other important people in your life.
- What Gives The Greatest Return? As a leader, you should spend most of your time working in your areas of greatest strength. If you are honest, you will realize you have two, three or maybe four real strengths. This doesn’t mean you spend time on only easy things, but that you spend your time in your strength zone, especially when it helps you get outside of your comfort zone. Real and lasting growth only happens when you move outside your comfort zone, yet still leverage your strengths.
- What Brings The Greatest Reward? Life is too short to not do the things you love. By applying the Law of Priorities and delegating tasks to others who can do them as well if not better than you, you will create more time to do the things you most enjoy.
Leaders who practice the Law of Priorities achieve outstanding results. Here are a few examples:
- Jack Welch famously practiced these principles when he decided GE should only continue in the businesses where they could be number 1 or 2 in their respective marketplace. Although you may not agree fully with all of his methods, he did deliver some outstanding results including building one of the most valuable companies in the world and ranking very high as one of Fortune Magazine’s Most Admired Companies.
- John Wooden, the great coach of the UCLA men’s basketball team, led the team to four undefeated seasons and 10 NCAA championships – still a record. He was known as a leader who followed the Law of Priorities whenever he planned and executed a team’s practice. Each drill was planned minute by minute to ensure each player could reach his potential.
- Dave Rae, a friend and mentor of mine, was the former President of Apple Canada and later became COO of Crown Financial Ministries, a globally-known organization focused on teaching personal financial strategies. I remember years ago meeting with Dave and he shared with me how he was so careful in planning his priorities, he could generally accomplish in eight hours what would take most leaders twelve hours to do. And if you know Dave, he wasn’t saying that to brag. He had other things in his life he wanted to devote time to, so he accomplished more in a shorter period of time so he could enjoy his outside interests.
I hope you can see the value of following the Law of Priorities. Are you allowing your priorities to drive your actions? Another helpful method of establishing priorities is to have a limited number of them each day. I say five is a good number – anything higher than five essentially means you have no priorities at all.
PS, if you are interested in bringing The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership into your organization, let me know and we can discuss the best way to accomplish this. You and your colleagues will be glad you did.