You need to use your time differently. You need to rise above the work. You need to figure out how to make yourself less busy with your current workload to make room to do higher-value work. No one will do this for you.
She was trying to teach her team this lesson: you can’t work yourself to death and succeed over the long term. It was a hard cultural challenge, because her team believed that this overwork was not only highly valued by the company, but demanded.
You don’t win the game for running up and down the court; it’s the points on the board that count.
But if they are successful, the other thing that you will notice is that they have a ruthless focus on the things they care about. It may seem that they are not doing a good job—but maybe that is just on the part that you are looking at. You need to understand: what else are they doing?
Welcome to being a leader. This is your job. Your job is not to deliver work when everything lines up to support you. Your job is to get the most important stuff done despite everything that lines up to kill you.
I know that what I wanted from my staff was for them to catch all the work, analyze it, make judgments about business priorities, and come back to me and negotiate. I wanted them to debate with me about what is most important and why and suggest how to rework the plan to do the most important things first.
This is how you keep your boss from continuing to pile things on. Get him on the hook for the same critical business outcomes—your Ruthless Priorities.
Yes, you need to find a way to succeed if your boss is being stupid, but if your plan requires you to win against your boss, you will lose, even if you are right.
If you’re tempted to work on everything because it feels less risky, just realize that you will remain unremarkable because you have not given yourself the opportunity to really excel on something that has a big impact on the business.
Only when you are mind-numbingly bored with talking about your Ruthless Priorities will your organization really know you are serious and feel confident about acting on them.
Getting big things done is so powerful that you will get smarter as you do it. Getting things done helps you see around corners. You learn, because you can actually test the reality of the impact of what you got done.
But you must focus. If you don’t, you will work very hard but fail to deliver significant business outcomes. So you will fail. This is one of those lonely leadership moments. All leaders face this. The most successful ones get on top of it. They rise above the work.
It’s critical to recognize that your job as a leader is to collect and respond to all of the requests that come from above, but not to try to actually do them all. You are expected to tune the workload, to change the game, to figure out better ways to do things.
If your executive management could figure out which of the things, in all of this work they assign to you, were truly critical to the business, they wouldn’t need you. That’s your job.
It is a core trait of the most successful people to rise above being overbusy. If there are any secrets to what really successful people do, this is one of them. They make more time.
When communications are not clear, the number of questions and individual conversations rises exponentially. Be really clear about decisions, priorities, and issues, and find a communication mechanism to distribute the information. You will increase the capacity of your team greatly if you simply communicate better.
If you are good at fixing things or just can’t stand unanswered questions, open loops, or disorganize data, get over it. You can’t fix everything, and most of it doesn’t matter anyway.
Make three lists on one sheet of paper, in three columns. In the first column, list the things on your to-do list that you are actually getting done. In the second column, list things that you have committed to get done to your boss or your customers or your peers or your team—but are not getting done. In the third column, list the things that you know are really important, but that you have no chance in hell of being able to do because of the existence of the first two lists.
Having more energy multiplies your time. You don’t just work faster; you take on things you wouldn’t otherwise. You solve bigger problems and pursue bigger challenges. You have more to give to others. You help your team and your peers more. You have more confidence and make better decisions.
Do things on purpose that help you recover your energy, but don’t give yourself too hard a time for being in a slump along the way. If you keep moving forward in your life and your work, even if you are not at your most brilliant, the slump will eventually pass.
Once you realize that your job is both your job description and dealing with all the crap that gets in the way of your doing your job description, and that what you are actually getting paid for is dealing with the crap, not the enjoyable parts, it all makes more sense.
The first and biggest hazard of taking your strengths for granted is that you waste too much time trying to fix your weaknesses. As humans we tend to focus on the things we are not good at. I don’t believe in investing in fixing weaknesses. It is a waste of time and energy, especially compared to building on strengths.
They decided it was important to thrive. They redefined the terms under which they were willing to work. They stopped trying to do their job as it was defined for them, focused on what they were really good at, and worked with other people to cover the areas they were not good at.
Leaders emerge because they are seen to get the work done through their leadership, not by their personal effort.
When you are a workhorse, people value you for your work output; they don’t value you. They don’t care how hard you work; they only care that the work gets done. Your company can absorb an unlimited amount of work from you.
It’s about figuring out how to do things better when the world and budgets are set against you
If you don’t enable and allow your team to make you bigger, you shouldn’t have a team.
if, as a leader, you are not sure what to do, talk to everybody.
Build a plan to drive the overall strategy for your team and its contribution to the business. Look for game-changing opportunities. Clarify Ruthless Priorities. Tune everyone’s workload to ensure that they deliver on the most important things. Ensure that there is strategic alignment of your team, peers, and boss with priorities and values. Assess your organization’s fitness for what it needs to do, and make changes, train, and/or upgrade talent where necessary. Create systems and frameworks to execute, track, and measure the work so you can feel comfortable that you know what is getting done without diving into the details. See also chapter 7, Delegate or Die. Create a specific learning agenda for your team, such as understanding the financial realities of the business, getting closer to customers, or competitive awareness and positioning. Develop talent. Help your team become better leaders and support them. Focus on the development of their top talent. Improve communication inside and outside your organization. Find ways to steadily reduce the cost of things you do every year to make room for new things. See also chapter 8, Better with Less. Continually make connections outside your direct organization to create positive visibility for your team and create a broader base of support.
You need to be prepared emotionally for not being the expert any more and for finding your value elsewhere. You need to earn your team’s respect with your leadership skills, not by trying to stay as smart as they are on the detail.
Don’t think of delegating as just giving work to other people; think about it as making sure the highest-value work gets done at the right levels.
Let some important stuff go undone, or get done poorly, so you make it clear that you really need the hire.
Always think of delegating as a teaching opportunity. Remember, delegating is about taking responsibility to ensure that the highest-value work gets done at the right levels. It is about pulling your people up and making them more capable.
You may be more comfortable with the deliverables, but you are completely cutting off the possibility that, with your encouragement and support, they could become even better at it than you. In fact, you are limiting them to never being any better at it than you.
If you overmanage people, they will not be motivated to excel; they will just be motivated to get you off their back.
As a leader it is your job to cut the cost of doing the same stuff year over year—full stop.
Dealing with shrinking budgets and increased responsibility is a way of life. As a leader you can’t let that prevent you from raising the bar and driving higher-value business outcomes each year. No one will help you with this. Your team will get annoyed that they have less money to do the same stuff. It’s up to you to lead.
A high-trust environment is a fast, competitive environment. A low-trust environment is a slow, dysfunctional environment.
If you try to avoid all negative discussion or always put a positive spin on everything, you will be seen as clueless by your people who are experiencing the reality. That will destroy trust. If you acknowledge difficult issues, then get your team focused on what they can do during times of uncertainty, you will build trust.
You must get comfortable with differentiating. Treating everyone equally is not fair to your high performers.
Do this now. With each of your reports, say the following: “As your manager I am going to worry about what matters to you. When I worry about you, what should I worry about?”
But it is imperative that you have a “What happened? This is unacceptable. What are you going to do about it?” conversation. Although these are not fun, comfortable conversations, if you avoid them, you are degrading trust.
Good work does not stand on its own. Delivering results alone does not ensure you will get recognized and rewarded. It’s sad but true. You need to take it upon yourself to make your work visible and make it count.
You need to show that you can think like a general manager about the whole business and put the business first, at the center of your thinking and discussions.
Doing your job well, as defined, keeps you from getting fired. What makes you stand out is finding additional ways to add value to the business over and above what is in your job description. Otherwise, you are just one more person doing what is expected of them.
Bringing the external voice of the real world back into your business sets you up as highly credible because most people don’t bother.
Being inconsistently good just pisses people off. It creates a high expectation and then a big letdown.
When you observe me at work or life, what is always true? What do you always see? What is my manner of communicating? What do I “look like” when I am delivering? What am I expert in? How do I relate to others at work: What do I give? What do I expect? How do my personality and values affect what I offer? What outcomes do you associate with my being involved in something?
By focusing on her brand, she gave herself the opportunity to sell her strengths without hesitation.
If you operate in your own department most of the time and don’t have personal relationships or functional reasons to talk to your boss’s boss, your boss’s peers, and leaders of other organizations, you can consider yourself invisible. And you can consider yourself stuck.
When the executives talk about who is the best, the people whose names are known (even if nothing else is known about them) come out way ahead of the more-talented people whose names are not known.
You can be doing a fantastic job, but if some of your key stakeholders either don’t know about it or have an incorrect, not-that-impressed perception of your work, it can be a huge block to your success and your ability to get promotions and resources for your team members or approval for projects you care about.
If you are remote, it is up to you to not disappear.
Are you being clear, succinct, and compelling? Have you tuned the presentation to be highly relevant to each audience? Do you get to the point? Are you sure you are not boring? Have you made sure you won’t be tempted to go on and on about details? Do you show strong personal presence? Do you show confidence rather than defensiveness? Can you deal with disagreements and attacks and not get drawn off track? Can you field questions succinctly and not get nervous? Can you continue to be succinct and not babble on and on when you get drawn off topic? Can you regain control of the conversation?
For example, don’t talk about needing data on something. Ask questions like, “What decisions will you be making based on this data?” or “What action do you need this data to inform?”
You first need to get yourself there. Once you are there, learn really fast, do the job, and get more comfortable and confident as you go. Then leap again.
The world is not waiting for you to check all the boxes; they are merely watching to see if you’ll step up. The ones who step up and go for things are the ones who get them. The ones who are fearless get there faster.
Any executive is much stronger after having spent significant time with customers where the business really happens. Spending time in sales changes your perspective forever, for the better.
This is one of the reasons it is so important to make more time, as we talked about in chapter 3. If you are completely consumed by your current job, you will not have any time or energy to do the things you need to do to get a better or bigger one.
You are already committed to your day job. Your extra work that you volunteer for should serve your personal purpose to get ahead.
A key test of executive presence is to look like you are doing your job with ease and grace. Even if behind the scenes it is chaos, what people should see is you being calm and in control.
The bigger the role, the broader your influence needs to be. As a top executive your impact needs to be on a much broader and more external stage. You need to prove that you know how to impact business growth and transformation internally and externally in a big way, if you want a big job.
However, building your career and letting your life go to hell does not work either. The trick is, if you want to do better at either work or life, you need to get better at both.
Your company wants you to have a good life that you enjoy. They know they will get more out of you at work if you are happy outside of work.
Anything north of half a million a year is the hazard pay for the company acting like it owns you, letting you know your time is not your own, and finding seemingly laser-targeted ways to torture you.
If you have a toxic or useless boss who is damaging you and your career, you need to get out. It’s not worth your time, your health, or the money that lured you into this in the first place.
Bluffing is just another example of why being an executive takes a fair amount of guts, and you need to be OK with the fact that from time to time you are going to be scared and way out of your comfort zone. That is a requirement of the job—get comfortable with it.
As long as you demand rigorous accountability to the business and measure and manage performance accordingly, you can be nice to people.
Along these lines, I often get asked whether you can or should be friends with a boss or employee. Yes, you can be friends, as long as the friendship does not keep you from being tough on accountability and results in the business. If you are the kind of person who can keep those separate, friends at work are fine. But if you end up holding your friends less accountable, or not imposing consequences because they are friends, and this makes you uncomfortable, then don’t make friends with employees. If you don’t seriously manage performance with employees who are friends, everyone will see that you are letting your friend get away with things. You will squander huge amounts of trust. People will accept your friendships as long as they see you being fair.
I am a firm believer that growing businesses come from growing people, and to be highly successful, you need to make the people supporting you successful too.