If, in the middle of a flight, I notice that the pilot was sat at the back of the plan rather than in the cockpit, I’d be worried. A pilot’s priorities are to fly the plane, remain in control, and take the passengers safely and swiftly to their destination. In the same way, as a manager or leader, if you find yourself feeling out of control of your actions, being driven by others and not able to drive forward your priorities, there’s a problem. Don’t worry, it happens to all of us. This time of year is a great point to pause and reflect on whether we are at the back of the plane, or in the cockpit. If you aren’t flying your own plane, read on to learn my 4 top tips on getting your priorities under control.
Reign in the ambitious timelines: If you’re anything like me, you want to build Rome in a day. At times, having a really clear vision of your end goal can be a curse. Whether it’s to be number one in your industry, gain a top award or exceed a revenue or growth target, no manager or leader can excel until they have crazy-bold ambitions. However, where we sometimes fall down is the timeline to achieve those amazing goals. No grand ambitions can ever occur in isolation – your business’s goal, your colleague’s own plans, market or shareholder pressures all have impacts. When you’ve created your vision, it’s really important to validate against the many other factors that affect it, and if required, review your timeline to be more pragmatic about achieving your vision. This is a far better approach than chipping away at what you want to achieve, which is ultimately very unsatisfying and less impactful.
Stop nodding your head!: Passionate people attract attention, their enthusiasm is infectious and this will encourage colleagues and bosses to seek out their help and involvement in various additional tasks and projects. It’s terribly flattering for the ego to get pulled into many streams of work, and it may even be difficult to refuse a senior when they ask for your participation. You need to know your limits and stay focused on your priorities. Know when there is a risk of compromising other work by taking on more – then politely explaining why you need to decline. If you realise your already in a position where you’ve bitten off more than you can chew and it is now affecting your priorities, better to swallow your pride and redefine your involvement in the additional work streams. You can still offer support, but make it more targeted. Don’t let pride stand in the way of you delivering your core priorities to the best of your ability!
Think about the business impact: At the risk of stating the obvious, we all need to frequently check in on how well the tasks and priorities we are working on fit with your overall business priorities. My colleague, Grant Hughes, introduced me to some fantastic thinking: “Will it make the boat go faster?” I’d highly recommend reading the book or watching the videos as a simple way to focus your priorities – helping you de-prioritise what doesn’t need to be at the top of the list and divert efforts to the most important tasks and goals. Simply put, if it doesn’t make the boat go faster, you should be asking yourself why it’s a priority!
Take your time, then communicate your plan: My last tip, and probably most the hardest to follow is the realisation that stuff changes. What mattered last quarter may not matter this quarter. Even more of a challenge is the realisation that your original vision was wrong, or at least needs finessing. This is a healthy part of moving forward, and it’s worth taking some proper time out (especially away from the work environment) to re-work your visions and plans, then check those changes against your priorities. To keep you team, your colleagues and your boss on-board, you then need to communicate simply what has changed and why. I strongly recommend the latter, taking time to engage those around you – use your Story-telling skills to the full. By evolving your thinking, you demonstrate your skills as a leader, so don’t feel like this change in priorities is a bad thing!
Evolution and change is inevitable, at some point priorities will change. Embrace this fact and you’ll be better placed to respond when you need to. I’m actually following my own advice, using these tips to refresh my focus and priorities, so I hope that you will also find them useful. Let me know if you have other ideas to share on this topic!