Sunday, January 17, 2010

One Trait of a Good Leader, Their Not-to-Do List

One trait of a good leader is their not-to-do list. Written or remembered,  the successful leader's not-to-do list saves them from a lot of stress and the potential for overload and burnout.

Great leaders know so well what they will say 'yes' to, that saying 'no' generally comes easy.

The not-to-do list allows us to create boundaries around out time and talents. It allows us to avoid being spread too thin. It prevents us from potentially slipping into attitudes that devalue others and depreciate ourselves.

Those leaders, executives, owners and professionals around us who we admire for really achieving good things, do not get involved in everything. They understand their limits and work within them. Whether they operate a successful business from home or run an international empire from the office with the commanding view, these men and women have clear boundaries.

Sometimes they tick people off when they say 'no' to a request. But they get things done ... the right things ... things that move causes, projects and programs forward. They appear to have a great ability to focus on those priorities that will best advance the ball.

"Today many are harming themselves through the temptation to do more than their limits will allow. Walking, running, and ambition are not necessarily unhealthy. Too much, however, is universally unhealthy. Overload is like that. The problem is not with the 'load'. The problem is with the 'over'. Richard Swenson, Margin, 1992, NavPress

We live surrounded by the cult-of-busy. People busily doing things, but achieving little, happy to have the bragging rights of being 'too busy' under the guise of complaining about work.

The leader ought not to live like this. Yes, you may be busy. Let's not kid ourselves. There is a lot on your plate. But your busy is directed and engaged. It is focused on priorities. It takes its energy from attending to those things which are most important and which when achieved will make the biggest impact.

Creating the First Draft of Your Not-to-Do List

  • Answer this question, 'What matters?". Check last weeks to-do list against this question. Were you working on what matters? Did you achieve those few things that would make the biggest difference? Or did your time get chewed up with items of lesser importance? Or worse yet, frittered away?

  • Write down those things which you are not prepared to do or which are simply not effective things for you to be doing. As a leader there are some key activities that you should be spending considerable time on and others that are just not the best use of your time.

  • Think about how willing you are to allow other people to do what needs to be done. Can you let them take the responsibility? Possibly fail to get it as well done as you think you can do it? Deal with the consequences? In other words before you make your not-to-do list, think about your attitudes toward others and just how important you find yourself to be.

  • Write the not-to-do list.

Possible Not-to-Do's. I will not:

  • Say yes to every request for my presence at some function.

  • Agree to sit on as many boards.

  • Take my work home on these nights of the week.

  • Allow that particular area to run understaffed, causing pressure on me.

  • Agree to as many conference calls.

  • OK so many meetings that require my involvement.

  • Agree to speak as often in places that involve considerable travel.

  • Allow interruptions during my most productive hours.

  • Agree to hear a problem without the person providing a potential solution.

  • Stay any longer in an area than 10 years.

  • Try to troubleshoot technical problems myself.

  • Accept the invitation to long lunches.

You get the idea. See how you do with your list. And then execute it with intention and focus. As you work with your personal coach, develop your personal not-to-do list. Let it guide you as you become increasingly more effective.

As an executive coach working with leaders, it is important for me to assist my clients in being more effective and productive. The not-to-do list is a simple lifelong tool, probably underestimated, that can make a big difference in seeing real, measurable improvement in that very same effectiveness and productivity.

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