Leadership Accelerator
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Miles To Go

Volume 1 | Issue 1 | Winter 2014

What Behavior Derails Even The Most Talented Executives?

The inability to say “no” is one of the most common factors preventing high performance in leaders. It’s easy to get caught up in the fire drill, or fire hose, of the day – multiple direct reports coming into your office with the latest “crisis”; urgent emails; long meetings; longer reports. Focus becomes challenging.

In the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman – the EQ guru – reports on the consequences of lack of focus: it makes you rudderless and clueless, and may leave you blindsided. Leaders who are unable to sustain a certain type of focus called “open awareness” get tripped up by irritating details. They will get extremely frustrated, for instance, at those ahead of them in the airport security line who take forever putting their items into the scanner bins.

Such events – repeated many times throughout one’s day – can derail executives who get distracted by them and lose their focus. In the normal course of business, attention to these details can drown out strategic thinking. In a real crisis situation, the danger is even greater.

Ruthless prioritization – knowing when to say “no” and not letting other people’s agendas take control – is essential to effective leadership. Ram Charan said in a recent interview with HBR (“You Can’t Be a Wimp – Make the Tough Calls”) that “CEOs face countless decisions. The best executives understand which ones they need to focus on and which ones they can delegate.” The good news is that many CEOs do recognize that this is something they need help with, and in fact, according to research The Miles Group conducted with Stanford, they are working on their delegation and leadership-sharing skills more than any other area.

People are biased toward – and are looking for – anything that looks even close to a “yes.” It’s the leader’s responsibility to push back on projects and activities that distract the leader, the team, and even the entire enterprise from working toward the true organizational mission.

TMG Tips

It’s important to think about how you allocate and where you spend your time. We suggest making an exercise of this and writing it down. There are a million things that you could do in your job, but what are the five things you must do? Ask yourself:

  • What can only you do? (Note that this might not seem like the most important task, but if you do not do it, it cannot get done.)
  • Where do you need to be an advisor?
  • Where can you provide input, and then let others complete the task?
  • Where do you not need to be involved at all?

In allocating your time, it’s also important to remember to leave space on your calendar. As a senior executive, you need to create thinking time. We can be in a constant state of multi-tasking and operating under the assumption that speed equals effectiveness, and senior leadership positions require you to also get out of the stream of the day-to-day so you can really reflect upon those issues and decisions that demand more thoughtfulness.