If you are new to the 3×5 Leader Development Handbook, I encourage you to start with the introduction here.
We claim that leader development is important and we always have the best intentions as leader developers. Then, life and work happen. All of the meetings, administrative work requirements, Soldier or employee matters to attend to, special projects, and more tend prevent us from finding the time to actually develop our leaders. Unfortunately, the non-essential urgent of our days tends to overtake the enduring important in our organizations – things like leader development. The next thing we know, it’s weeks and months later with no thought or action towards leader development but a mountain of busywork completed.
Before we can get into the meat of this Leader Development Handbook, it is important to address the need to create opportunity and readiness for leader development first. In this second part of the Leader Development Handbook, we address the first building-block of our leader development approach: managing our organizational demands.
Private organizations prioritize efficiency from their people and systems to improve profit and remain competitive. I believe that we can take a similar approach: improving our organization’s efficiency so that we create new opportunities for leader development. By improving the efficiency of our routine work, we create new capacity – both in newly available time and human bandwidth. This improved organizational capacity then creates a rich environment to enact quality and robust leader development. There are several ways to accomplish this from mere attitude shifts, leveraging long-term planning to “put first things first,” and improved systems to manage our routine work.
Shifting Attitudes About Our Work
Before we can achieve results, we need to alter behavior and habits; before we can alter those, we need to shift our attitudes and ways of thinking. First, we need to take a critical look at the “things” that consume our time each day and categorize them based on their urgency and importance. I recommend Steven Covey’s Time Management Matrix, from his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, as a way to identify the tasks and issues that consume our time each day: how urgent it is vs. how important.
Covey argues that the most effective people stay out of Quadrants III and IV, because urgent or not, they are not important. These people also shrink Quadrant I down to size by spending more time in Quadrant II. Quadrant II is the heart of effective personal management.
Covey’s argument above sounds ideal but, it is not necessarily realistic. No matter how hard we try, the urgent tasks we determine as not important will always find ways to consume our time. Below are some considerations I offer when trying to apply this matrix at the organizational level:
- Both at the individual and organizational levels, how can we best manage Quadrants I and III? Can we build systems or processes to deal with them effectively and efficiently? Can we delegate these types of issues to spread the “routine work wealth?”
- In considering Quadrant IV items, leaders should ask why we are even wasting our time with them. How can we define and then teach our people what falls in this Quadrant so we don’t put forth any human capital towards these time-wasters?
- Quadrant II is the one that makes our people better in our organization. This is what we want to spend our time on as much as possible. Ideally, we want our organization to live in Quadrant II while bouncing into Quadrant I when needed and Quadrant III only when absolutely necessary.
I recommend readers looking to learn more about The Time Management Matrix first read Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Additionally, I recommend checking out The Army Leader’s article, Don’t Manage Your Time, Manage Your Tasks.
Further, a second attitude shift must occur: leaders must refuse to be victims of their circumstances. By this, I mean that leaders must remain optimistic and opportunity-driven, not put-off by their inability to control all of the factors that drive our organization’s tasks and use of time. We will absolutely have to deal with the urgent and the unimportant from time to time. If leaders fall victim to the belief that they can’t develop leaders because they don’t have “x” time or “y” resources, then it is a non-starter; the leader is already failing the organization and their people. Leaders must focus on the opportunities and ask, ‘based on my current circumstances, what existing opportunities can I seize in order to pursue my leader development ideas and goals?’ By applying a little critical and creative thinking, leaders can discover unique opportunities to pursue their leader development efforts and ultimately make their organization better.
“Effective people are not problem-minded; they’re opportunity-minded. They feed opportunities and starve problems. They think preventatively.”
– Peter Drucker, author and ‘father of modern management’
Readers interested in exploring more about opportunity-minded decision-making can look to the SWOT Analysis.
Finally, one more attitude shift that must occur is defining, communicating, and adhering to our espoused organizational (or leader) priorities. I believe many of us have experienced an organization where they subconsciously assert that everything is a priority, to include all of the urgent matters, regardless of importance (Quadrant I and III). This often stems from leaders’ unwillingness to assume risk by clearly defining what is important, because by defining that, they also inherently define what is not important and many are not comfortable with assuming that risk. This mindset needs to change.
Consider the Big Rocks Theory: we have a jar that serves as our organization’s finite time and capacity for work. There are the “big rocks,” which we espouse as our priorities – the most important things in our organization, things like leader development. We also have “sand,” which are all of the urgent and routine things that fill our time; these things often fail to provide any organizational value. If we fill our jar with sand first, we will not have the space for our big rocks. We need to place our big rocks in our jar before anything else. The only way we can do that is by defining our big rocks, which in turn defines what is the sand. Then, we need to make an organizational plan to put those big rocks in first. This requires leaders to “put first things first.”
“Put First Things First” Through Planning
To “put first things first,” leaders initially need to clearly define and communicate our organizational priorities to our people – the big rocks. Just doing that proves to be ¾ of the battle in reality. But to win the other ¼ of the battle, leaders need to “schedule their priorities,” as Covey claims, and make a plan to actually place the big rocks in the jar first. This requires long-range organizational planning.
Within the Army, for example, battalion and company formations should be planning out their major training and important events six to 12 months out; platoons can be planning three to six months. In maintaining this long-view, leaders can place organizational priorities on the calendar in advance before they are overtaken by the unimportant, urgent sand. Further, this also provides improved predictability across the organization in our unit schedules.
No matter where a leader serves, they can enact some sort of “planning conference” or “planning off-site” to schedule those priorities; here is an idea on how I leveraged planning conferences as a company commander. In a planning conference, leaders and units can look at several factors to map out their long-term schedules:
- What are the events that we are required to complete in the next six to 12 months? For the US Army, these can be things like AR 350-1 mandatory training, inventories, etc.
- What are the things that our higher headquarters are mandating? These can include things like key training events, etc. Let’s get those on the calendar next because they are our boss’s priorities.
- With those on the calendar, we now look at all of the available “white space” to start mapping out our priorities on there. Our defined priorities can be leader development activities (of course), key training exercises, team building events, family and community events, etc.
Army readers can learn more about how to categorize training in an earlier 3×5 Leadership article, here.
Achieving Efficiency Through Management
“Good units do routine things routinely.”
Finally, our attitude shifts and planning must also be accompanied by the consistent application of management. Improved management in our routine work establishes, maintains, and optimizes our systems and processes; it aims to maximize task efficiency and smooth operations. This doesn’t sound fun or sexy – it’s not. But this is a critical topic that leaders must consider.
I assert that, though we identify as leaders, we all have varying levels of leadership and management responsibilities inherent to our jobs. We need to ensure that our routine business and the things that consume our time each day are done both effectively and efficiently – we must enact some good management amidst our leadership and leader development efforts.
Though there is not a single approach or model to consider in order to “achieve this efficiency” across the board, I believe a few examples can shed some light on what this routine business management looks like:
- A company commander can clearly define how monthly unit property inventories are conducted, down to the details of the paperwork necessary to be present and who plays what role (commander uses the technical manual, platoon leader uses the inventory sheets, a trusted Soldier supports by validating the shortage annex, and Soldiers identify the physical items). By offering a detailed and standard script of how unit inventories flow, units can save hours on inventories, which eventually becomes days’ worth of time. It can still serve as a leader development opportunity by including the Soldiers and teaching them this is why we do it this way so they have a better understanding of the purpose of this inventory and how to do it when they are the NCOs in charge of it.
- A unit operations officer establishing very detailed and specific operations management tools such as a unit calendar, unit battle rhythm, and comprehensive task tracking system. Creating a unit calendar SOP and an efficient calendar platform allows the calendar management system to eventually run smoothly with little human input or issue. Moreover, by creating detailed processes for planning, creating orders for, and publishing operation orders within the shop can save numerous people within the shop hours per week as well.
- Creating a disciplined meeting culture within the organization. By clearly defining the meeting audience, inputs, outputs, and purposes, leaders can better ensure participants come prepared to the meeting so information flows quickly and smoothly. The time of so many organizational meetings can be cut in half with some disciplined management application. This is not to say that discourse and collective discovery learning are bad, but leaders should be clear on when they are appropriate or not.
To explore more about the role of management and it’s necessary and evolving nature, I recommend readers also check out two articles from Harvard Business Review: Why Do We Undervalue Competent Management and The Role of a Manager Has to Change in 5 Key Ways.
The Result: Capacity and Leader Development
In an ideal scenario, we’ve shifted our attitudes: we’ve become a purpose-driven organization with clearly defined priorities and are opportunity-minded, not falling victim to circumstances or restrictions. We’ve shifted to a long-view, planning long-term to ensure our “big rocks” get on our calendars before anything less important overtakes them. Finally, we’ve improved our organizational management functions by refining the efficiency of our routine work – our systems, processes, and use of time and person-hours.
Really, what we’ve done is created new capacity within our organization and our people. We have created new “white space” on our calendars (available time) and human mental-emotional bandwidth to take on new challenges within the organization.
We’ve created an enrichened environment for leader development. When our people are overwhelmed by busywork day-after-day without efficient ways to manage them, they do not have the ability to engage in or care about other things, things like leader development, no matter how important we claim they are. This management approach better enables our peoples’ readiness for leader development.
I recognize this is not an inspiring leadership topic, but I believe it’s an important one that is rarely discussed. We can have all of the best leader development ideas, goals, and intentions in the world. Unfortunately, if our people and our work environment are struggling to survive day-to-day, there is no capacity for leader development to have a meaningful impact. We need to build that capacity – by shifting attitudes, improving processes, and applying the “Time Management Matrix” way of thinking and working.
The end result is individual and collective readiness for meaningful leader development – which we begin to explore in the coming posts in this Leader Development Handbook.
Lead well, friends!
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