The key to great leadership is to have the right priorities, the right people on your team, and the right relationships that achieve results: priorities, who, and relationships.
These are the three most important outcomes of leadership—what you must accomplish to succeed. Other factors may also contribute to your success, such as luck, interest rates, and the price of tea in China. But of the things leaders control directly, these three matter the most.
Having goals tells you what you want to accomplish, but goals alone don’t give you any sense of why they matter or which ones matter most. Setting priorities forces you to focus your energy on the few things that truly count.
Leaders who neglect to set priorities fail to achieve their goals. The diffusion of energy drags them down to mediocrity.
Try rating your priorities on a 1-to-10 scale by answering these three questions:
- Do our priorities connect to our mission?
- Do we have the correct priorities?
- Are our priorities clear to the team?
Priorities that score a 10 are:
- CONNECTED TO MISSION
It sounds like priorities start with the “why.”
Yes. Priorities start with the why and end with the what. Why do you exist and what are you trying to achieve?
Leadership is about helping people derive purpose in their lives, not just getting results out of them. People aren’t widgets. They want to know that their efforts contribute to something meaningful and worthwhile. That is why you have to start with the “why.”
What makes them unclear?
The most common reason is having too many priorities. That is why most leaders struggle with a low P score. They never say no and allow too many priorities to creep in.
Prioritizing means making decisions, and a lot of leaders are afraid to do that. It makes them vulnerable. Saying yes to one thing means saying no to another, and that will surely upset somebody on the team. It’s easier to just go with the flow or to pay consultants to make hundred-page strategy presentations. In the end, a lot of leaders want to avoid having to make an actual choice about what matters and what doesn’t because choices have consequences.
How do teams set priorities?
Lots of ways.
Take Kristin Russell. She’s an information technology celebrity executive who was recruited to run IT for the state of Colorado. She set priorities by talking to users of the systems she was charged with managing.
“Technology is actually pretty easy,” Kristin said, “but people are hard. It is like the Lewis Carroll quote, ‘If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.’ I needed to figure out what road we were on, and the only way to do that was talk to the people who actually used our system. Once I knew that, I knew where to focus my team. We took six months and identified the five priorities that mattered most—including reducing the number of IT systems so that all divisions of the government could communicate, collaborate, and automate.”
Indeed, Geoff just updated his driver’s license, and a process that once required two hours to drive to a DMV office and wait in line now took only two minutes and twenty-four seconds.
Who: How important is that?
It is the single most important thing you can do. Who you have on your team, and who is in your organization, will determine your success more than anything else.
The Wall Street Journal, in its review of Who, wrote that this issue of the who—hiring the right people—is the “most important aspect of business.” And the numbers bear that out.
The number-one, most common weakness leaders have is in failing to remove underperformers. The fourth most common weakness leaders have is in hiring A Players.
Interestingly, leaders who are good at removing underperformers are also good at hiring A Players. It’s as if a leader either “gets it” that talent matters or doesn’t think that way at all
Yeah, it’s about getting the right people on the bus and into the right seats. That’s what Jim Collins says.
And he’s right. As one person at a recent PWR talk pointed out, “You can’t have a high P or a high R if you don’t have a high W. You have to have the right people to hope to have the right priorities and the right relationships.”
What about the team I already have? Wouldn’t that be the most logical place to start looking for the right who?
That’s a great place to start. Ask yourself how confident you are that you have a team of A Players who can accomplish your priorities.
You want to be 90 percent or more confident.
But wouldn’t all those A Players compete with one another?
They would if you hired a bunch of prima donnas. We don’t define A Players that way, though. We define A Players as those who have at least a 90 percent chance of succeeding in a role where only the top 10 percent of possible people could succeed, at a given compensation level.
If you need people to work together as a team, then make that part of the job—part of the definition for what an A Player looks like to you. So if you have somebody that competes with the rest of the team, then that person isn’t an A Player at all. See how that works?
Sounds like a military operation. What’s involved?
Three things. First, you have to remove your underperformers. Second, you need to move people around to get them in the right jobs. Lastly, you need to hire A Players to round out your team.
Sounds soft and fuzzy. Am I going to have to give my team a hug every morning?
We aren’t talking about ambiguous touchy-feely relationships here. This is about building relationships that function well together and achieve results.
Full PWR leaders, those top 1 percent leaders who pull all three PWR levers, set incredibly high standards for their teams and are over seven times more likely to hold them accountable to those standards versus all other leaders. And they are two times more likely to follow through on their own commitments than everybody else. There is nothing soft and fuzzy about it.
So, they’re serious about results.
You bet. Relationships are simply the way people behave toward one another to achieve those results.
This is about ensuring that the members of your team take coordinated action, commit to your cause, and constantly challenge one another to achieve new heights.
And they get there when the leader cracks the whip?
Just the opposite, actually.
Leadership is about the relationship between a leader and his or her followers. In fact, relationship building and building followership are two of the most prevalent competencies found in leaders who excel at the R. This is about them, not you.
Not only that, but great leaders know they must offset their own weaknesses by building a strong team around them. Assuming they begin with the right who, building relationships that work is about making the whole far greater than the sum of the parts.
This sounds like a way to amplify their individual effectiveness.
Precisely! As a leader, you derive your power from making your team powerful. All progress in this world happens when people pursue a worthy goal together. You may be their leader, but the team supplies the energy and does the work that leads to extraordinary outcomes.
Are you talking about every relationship in the whole organization?
Yes. Your immediate team, your boss, your peers in other departments, and teams across departments. They all count.
Think about a great conductor. He can’t sit in all the sections or play all the instruments, but when he raises his baton at the start of a concert, he knows for sure that the strings and the horns and the percussionists know their parts and will blend into a beautiful symphony as soon as the baton comes down. What’s more, and this is critical, he knows that the musicians know that the better they play their parts, the better the whole will sound.
A great conductor, a great baseball manager, a great schoolteacher, a full PWR leader—at the bottom line, they’re all the same. They recognize that leading is about awakening the possibility within those they lead and helping them realize a vision bigger than themselves.