Are You Feeding the Machine or the Mission?

Your real battle as a leader is the one for your focus.

It’s a battle too many leaders lose for a lot of reasons.

Sure, everyone has more to do in a day or week than they have time for on their calendars.

Yet, the quality of all of that work to be done varies dramatically.

There’s work defined by someone else’s definition of urgent. Their crisis becomes your problem. That’s usually not good work.

Then there’s the work of the bureaucracy—a seemingly endless set of demands that soak precious time and energy for reasons that no one can reasonably defend. This busywork always begets more busywork. I call this feeding the machine.

The best leaders dissect their calendars with surgeon-like precision, removing activities that feed the machine and distract them from their real priorities: people, ideas, strategy, and stakeholders, especially customers. They focus on feeding the mission.

One Manager’s Courage

I was asked on behalf of a senior executive to coach one of his direct reports. “She’s very good at her job, but she’s not a team player,” he offered.

When I asked him what “not being a team player” looked like, he said, “She frequently skips group meetings, questions why top management needs different reports and operates like a maverick.”

“How are her results?” I asked.

“Truthfully, her team gives her high marks, their performance is outstanding, and I think she could be a star here if she would just stop fighting us and join the team,” he said.

My short answer was, “It sounds like she focuses on what matters. Perhaps it’s everyone else that is wrong.”

I didn’t get the assignment. I noticed recently this “not a team player” manager joined a high-flying competitor as a senior executive. I’m not surprised.

I cannot emphasize this strongly enough: most of the demands placed on your time don’t matter. Find the courage to say “No” and replace those with the actions that improve engagement, help development, satisfy customers, and uncover new ways to serve and win in the market.

Be merciless in figuring out and focusing on what matters.

Feed the mission.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There are a million or more articles out there on how to improve your productivity. Most of them offer hacks and tips that are useful but miss the point. First, figure out what matters most and then fight to focus. You’ll step on some toes and upset those devoted to feeding the machine. That should make you smile as you navigate your days driven by your personal GPS of what matters.

Art's Signature