Leaders doing the right things

By being deliberate and focusing on doing the right things, you’ll be spending your time correctly

03/11/2011


Ready, fire, aim: It’s a subtle wording that captures a common trap that we’ve all experienced. In our frenetic world of e-mails and “To Do” lists that never shrink, even finding the time to read columns like this is hard when you’re operating in survival mode. But have you ever wondered after completing something, “Was that worth everything I put into it, or did I jump into doing this without fully realizing why?”

You may have heard the phrase, “focus on doing the right things versus just doing things right.” It’s clearly not a de-emphasis on doing things correctly; it’s about making sure that before doing something, you should be doing it.

Great theory, but how do you know what are the “right” things?

Obviously, there’s no pill to swallow that will give you Solomon’s wisdom. Before starting an assignment, though, squeeze in the time to write down its purpose. Here are a few thought-provoking questions to help:

  • What will be improved as a result of doing this?
  • If I didn’t do this, what would happen?
  • What is the benefit to a customer or recipient of this?
  • If someone is requesting you to do this work, is it clear between the two of you what the expectations are for the results?

To create the most value out of your work, which is what work is all about, a little irreverence can be healthy—not irreverence out of obstinacy, but irreverence that comes from questioning and coming to good conclusions instead of merely following existing momentum. These four characteristics are critical in being a solid leader:

  1. Self-esteem: The real kind, built by the experience of meeting difficulties and challenges and overcoming them to accomplish real results.
  2. Courage: Life is full of unclear choices, and it takes courage to do what you believe is right.
  3. Perspective: Beyond your role, what’s important to the larger organization of which you are a part?
  4. Bias for action: Ultimately, whether you’re in right, wrong, or less than optimal conditions, do something. Don’t just think about it.

A leader pushes back when pushing back or questioning is appropriate. It takes courage, perspective, self-esteem, and a bias for action to make sure you’re doing the right things. We’ve all learned that the more time spent up-front on the requirements in product development leverages multiple reductions in the time spent developing—resulting in better products with far less angst in the team along the way and better alignment with customers’ expectations. The same thing applies to projects or any other initiatives, so time spent making sure the objectives are clear and correct pays dividends once the work starts.

Think of the leaders you like to follow. It seems like they know where things are going, and they don’t waste your time or let distractions interrupt progress. When you have a sense of purpose, you become like a sailboat with a deeper keel. When that keel is deep, you’re much less susceptible to the wind blowing you off course. Everyone has opinions about projects and in work in general; separate yourself by having more than just an opinion. Thoroughly understanding the purpose shines a light on the path toward doing the right things that tie to real customer value, reducing the inevitable internal political situations/power struggles that arise because we’re humans.

So, ready, aim, fire. Make sure that you’re not too busy doing to think about whether what you’re doing is what you should be doing. After all, it’s not just about being productive at work, it’s about time in your life and how you spend it.

Spend that time wisely.

- Suzukida was Trane’s senior VP of global marketing and strategy prior to founding Lanex Consulting in 2002, which focuses on energy efficiency, product-to-solutions transitions, and strategy. He has facilitated meetings for the West Coast Zero Net Energy Coordinating Council, Daikin, Danfoss, and the National Conference on Building Commissioning, and has authored articles for industry publications. He has a BSME and distinguished alumnus award from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.