What are the most impactful things you do everyday as a leader? What can you do for your team that no one else can? What consistent effect must you have in your organization to create the culture you seek? These are challenging questions, but ones that leaders must answer to achieve their purpose for their teams.
I originally started this post by exploring how easy it is for daily distractions, those Urgent/Important shiny objects, to draw leaders into the weeds of busywork. But if you are a leader, you already know what that feels like. You start the day with good intentions, get distracted by the next big crisis, then pick your head up at 1800 having bounced from problem to problem. Problem solving, however, is not the leader’s most important role.
Instead, the leader’s principal responsibility is to define the landscape for the organization, chart the course it will travel, tend to followers’ needs, and many other “big picture” responsibilities that no one else is qualified to execute. Other key leader tasks include providing vision, shaping culture, developing leaders, fighting for organizational maneuver space, identifying risk, pursuing opportunity, and so on.
It’s a worthwhile exercise to determine the few things that leaders should do everyday to achieve the desired leadership effect. I’d like to take a moment to share mine with you.
This notecard sits on my desk as a reminder to do the things I’ve decided are most important. I challenge you to determine what your most important role is for your followers, then create a method for reminding yourself to stay in that role.
Communicate the Vision. Some leaders associate vision with The Why, The What, or perhaps where the organization will be in the future. I see Vision as The How. Vision is the manner in which we perform the tasks of our profession. It’s how we train, the way we interact with each other, the behaviors we will and will not tolerate, and so on. I crafted The Vision as memorizable action phrases that apply to all unit and Soldier activity, on and off duty. If we do this, the rest will fall into place.
That Vision is:
- Train and Maintain to Win
- Lead with Positivity and Respect
- Be a Professional
Why is Communicate the Vision first on the list? Because more than anyone else in the organization, the leader is responsible for creating, communicating, exemplifying, and enforcing the Vision. If the Vision (or core message) is to permeate to the lowest level and shape behavior, the leader must reinforce it at every opportunity. The rule I follow is that if I don’t feel like I’ve stated The Vision 1,000 times, people aren’t hearing it enough to make a difference.
Give Sincere Thanks and Praise. I put this one on my list because thanking and giving praise is incredibly easy to overlook. In the military, there are times when we must accomplish the mission regardless of the accolades. However, showing appreciation might be the largest return on investment in a leader’s day.
Marshall Goldsmith reinforces this notion in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Everyone appreciates recognition for their effort. Even when the result falls short of the goal, the effort matters. #2 reminds me to look for ways to show appreciation and pause to let the team members know how important their contribution is.
Let Others Occupy Leader Space. This reminder also stems from Marshall Goldsmith. Because I’m the commander, I have total authority and responsibility in the formation. It’s a military unit…people are plenty aware who’s in charge. So…I don’t need to prove it to them throughout the day.
Instead, my most important role is to create an environment to let them grow as leaders. Translation: I don’t hesitate to keep quiet and let other people offer ideas, craft solutions, and display initiative. If the situation demands leadership and action…and it’s not a decision that’s explicitly mine…then I try to let others step into the space to make a difference. In this way, they feel like part of the process, gain confidence, and are better prepared to take on more responsibility in the future.
Find Your Most Impactful Work
If you haven’t codified your most important role, don’t worry. Every day is a fresh opportunity to grow as a leader. Get up early tomorrow, do PT by yourself, or get out of the office and ponder these questions:
- What can you do for your team that no one else can?
- What is your core message, the dose of insight that best represents your leadership philosophy?
- What two or three things do you want your people to learn that will outlast your tenure as leader?
- What are the key ideas or behaviors that drive your organization towards success?
When you narrow down your list, run it by your mentors, key influencers, and people you respect who can give you honest feedback. If you expect your list to drive action on your team, make it easy to remember and display it everywhere. Finally, create a battle rhythm that will remind you to be most impactful. Post-It notes, phone reminders, and daily affirmation habits work well to keep you focused on your most important role.
What is your most impactful work? Share it in a comment below. And be sure to share this post with your team.