It’s easy for a CEO (or any leader) to feel like their job is to give people more work. More stuff keeps coming up, urgent stuff, and SOMEBODY has to do it. It just has to get done, and so you gotta give it to someone.
But when considered carefully, the real job of a leader is not to assign work to workers. The real job is to make sure that every person in the organization has clear priorities. And the number one way in which priorities get confused is when there’s too many of them.
I Hired You to Think
In a perfect world, each person on the team would have just ONE priority, which they would work on until complete, and then they’d move on to the next. In the actual world, that’s neither realistic nor efficient. We hire people in part for their ability to juggle more than one priority and to make decisions on which one to work on at any time.
Sometimes one effort is blocked and it’s best for someone to put time against another while they’re waiting for the block to clear. Sometimes people get bored of working on one thing and will be more productive with a context shift. These decisions require judgement and successful team members will show the ability to make them well.
Not Very Much is Too Much
But it doesn’t take many priorities to be present before those efficiencies collapse. If someone has ten items on their to-do list, odds are that they will simply NEVER get to those bottom five or six. New urgencies will forever emerge, so that those bottom items never rise high enough to get addressed.
And each new priority makes the whole lot more difficult to manage. Because it’s not like “priority” is some kind of perfectly detached quality that just magically appears for each item. Any given item’s priority is dependent on other items, and as new things become important, all the other things need to be assessed again. And again. And again.
If You’re Not Clear, Nobody Is
Yes, there are a million things to do. And the people on your team want to help. They want to be heroes, and carry big things across finish lines. Stop generating more and more and longer and longer to-do lists, and help your team boil those tasks down into objectives that can be effectively prioritized.
This is a job that YOU, as the ultimate holder of the business’ objectives, are uniquely positioned to do. Your position enables you to appreciate the entire context of the business, and thus prioritize the many competing aspects of the business.
So make it a regular part of your leadership to review your reports’ to-do lists, or objectives, or however you track this. And when you see more than five or six, start challenging that person’s understanding of what their real priorities are. Take the time to figure out how you’ve failed to give this person clarity about business objectives, and get them focused on what’s truly most important.
Get out of the to-do weeds and help your team stay focused. Give them less, not more, to do.