The more I work with senior leaders, the more convinced I am that there are just three critical leadership tasks. They're very simple to understand and tremendously difficult to do:
1. Set our priorities.
Don't let them be set for us by others, by circumstances or by our Inbox. And the more senior we are, the more latitude and choice we have, the more we need to rely on our judgment and intuition. This requires being open to influence while resisting advocacy, being attuned to the data while knowing when to ignore it and take a calculated risk.
2. Focus our attention.
Focused attention is a leader's most important resource, not only because it's so powerful, but also because it's finite. Even when we work longer and harder, our capacity for truly focused attention is neurologically limited. So it's crucial to focus our attention on our priorities, without allowing ourselves to be distracted by things that appear urgent but lack importance. This requires establishing boundaries to protect our attention, developing habits that help us maintain focus, and switching off the false alarms (digital and emotional) that constantly interrupt us throughout the day.
3. Manage our emotions.
Note that manage doesn't mean suppress. Emotions are essential to effective influencing and decision-making, and we need to harness them to serve our needs. We also need to resist being hijacked by them, and this involves not only the big emotions that disrupt us in dramatic fashion, but also the subtle ones that sidetrack us and slowly draw us off course over time. This requires an ongoing commitment to sense, understand, articulate and express our emotions effectively.
When we get these three tasks right, everything else tends to fall into place--and when we don't, we waste endless amounts of time and energy trying to compensate.
Photo by Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.