Like many people, you may have started 2018 with a list of resolutions. Also like many people, you may have already faltered on the commitments you made. Change is hard. And there are few things that are more difficult to change than ourselves.
However, while people may struggle with changing habits and tendencies, they may be more apt to follow a checklist of activities that frame their actions. Perhaps it is because many of us enjoy the thrill of being able to cross off a task, I find that checklists are helpful in a variety of ways. Not only do they help me bring a project to completion, but they serve as a reminder of the type of behaviors that I want to engage in, as well as those that I want to avoid. With that idea in mind, here is a leader’s to-do list to start off the new year.
- Make time for what is most important. Most of us have heard of the tyranny of the urgent, and while we know the disjointedness that can follow from pursuing only those tasks that scream the loudest, we are still tempted to do what seems like it must be done NOW, even if that crowds out what is more important. One way to avoid this tendency is to schedule time for what is most important – and to keep to that schedule. If exercising is important to you – book that time on your calendar. If you want to spend more time with loved ones – put it in your planner. If we are constantly pursuing that which demands our attention rather than that which truly matters, not only will we find ourselves making the same resolutions next year, but we will likely be haggard, weary, and poorly equipped to lead.
- Take time before you say “yes.” As a leader, you are likely regularly asked to take on new things or pursue new opportunities. If it is something that is attractive or intriguing to you, you may quickly say “yes” without considering how it is going to fit into your schedule. It is only later on when the urgent things are demanding your attention, and you seem to have more work than you have hours in the day that you realize that as exciting as the project may have been, perhaps it wasn’t wise to take it on right now. No one is giving you more hours in the day. If you say “yes” to something new – you have to say “no” to something else. It may be the new opportunity is worth the trade-off; it often is. But if you don’t rush to a commitment, you will be better able to evaluate whether that is in fact the case. For most things – people do not need an answer immediately. Ask for time. Carefully consider the impact on you and those you care about – including your family and your team. Taking 24 hours to arrive at a decision likely won’t obliterate the opportunity – but it will give you the chance to determine what adjustments need to be made in order to pursue it.
- Avoid responding to (most) criticisms immediately – The saying that it is “lonely at the top” is true. If you are a leader – you are likely the first recipient of criticism and you bear more than your share of blame for when things don’t go as planned. This is the job of leadership. However, for many of us there is a temptation to try to explain our actions – especially when we feel that criticism against us is unjust or unwarranted. However, in responding to every slight that is leveled against us, we actually give people more ammunition to aim our way because in all likelihood, if we respond to criticism right away we don’t do so in the most gracious, judicious, or level-headed way. Give time for other people to rise to your defense. Let unfolding events demonstrate your competence. There may be times where you need to correct an immediate error in people’s perception of you, but often you don’t. And if you wait, not only may a response be unneeded, but the response you give will likely be more powerful and effective.
- Commit to do something for which you can’t be repaid. As articulated above, much is demanded of leaders. Oftentimes relationships with teams and colleagues can become transactional – such is the nature of the modern workplace. However, the one sure-fired way I know to get out of any leadership doldrums is to do something for someone who can’t repay you. When you sacrificially give, you are making the decision to set aside your own interest for the interests of others. It is not imposed or enforced. It is your choice. And in choosing that, you are often reminded of why you lead, the privilege that it is, and the opportunities it affords you. Commit to regularly (I suggest starting with weekly) blessing someone who can’t return the favor. If they do want to “pay you back” – ask them to give sacrificially to someone else. If you are fighting leadership fatigue, this will help overcome it.
None of the things on this list are revolutionary. If you have been leading for any length of time, you have likely heard them before. My hope is that as we commit to completing our to-do list, we will not only be more effective leaders, but we will also be leaders that are more wholeheartedly engaging in the important, ignoring the trivial, and who are making a lasting difference in the lives of many.
Dr. Natalie Winter
Professor of Marketing & Management
Associate Dean for School of Business
Photo from: https://kristyscottage.com/be-productive-this-year-not-just-busy/to-do-list-and-coffee/