The Path to Strategic Leadership - Part 1: Drop and Give Me 20

Have you made the tactical to strategic leap? At a critical point on the career ladder, a leader must make the quantum leap from volume achievement to unique vision in order to keep climbing.

Much of my work as a performance coach is about creating powerful strategic leaders, fit for succession, from successful tactical managers. This is a difficult transition since the manager’s success, and previous path of promotion, was a direct result of years of effective “doing”. While volume achievement makes you a valued contributor, companies look for strategic vision when building their elite leadership teams. The barrier to this change is often in getting bogged down with your assigned “doing” and not allocating time and energy towards applying your unique perspective and strengths to the creation and implementation of a future vision. This requires taking risk, challenging status quo, and operating outside of your comfort zone - all key skills of a strategic leader.

The first step in the path to strategic leadership is to create time and space for strategic thinking, planning and development. This requires clearing the overly full plate with a technique I call “Drop and Give Me 20” where you remove 20% of your outstanding tasks. This doesn’t mean hurry up and get them done or put them off until later. It means delegate up to 10% more than you do today and drop the remaining 10% for good. Ignore your internal arguments as to why this can't be done and just DO IT! Frenzied, frazzled and overworked managers don’t get promoted (no matter how much they get done). Until you can make your current job look easy, you aren’t going anywhere. Leaders need room to move, think, develop relationships and create a better future. You can’t do that chunking through a 30-item to-do list each day.

There is always at least 10% on our plates that doesn’t belong there. Ball dropping is an executive skill – if you don’t believe me, just look upward! The trick is knowing which balls to keep in the air and which ones to let roll off into the weeds. How to know which is which? Keep activities that align with the true mission of your organization. Drop any that are someone else’s pet project or that report on progress rather than make it. Another method is to prioritize all your work and slice off the bottom 10%. Either way, make it happen. You’ll grow old waiting for someone to make it happen for you.

Feel like your team can’t take on the 10% more that you need to delegate? Apply the ball dropping technique to your organization’s commitments as well. Like quality grape vines, regular pruning keeps the organizational foundation strong and productive. If you are always doing the really important things, no one will take serious issue when drop the rest. A strategic leaders are willing to the take small hits to achieve their big goals.

Steps for creating your strategic space:

1. Write down and prioritize all the activities that your team is responsible for. Identify 10% of the least valuable tasks and eliminate them or offload to a more appropriate organization. Be prepared to make a compelling case, if needed, but stand firm against the inevitable push back.

2. Now do the same for your own to-do list. Be committed to saying NO to anything that doesn’t move your team forward in a strategic way. When you do say YES, be sure it is for the right reasons.

3. Delegate another 10% of your list to your team, who now has the time and energy to take it on. This develops them and frees you. Learn to be a master delegator! Don’t let these self-defeating thoughts keep you from moving forward:

  • “I don’t have time to delegate. It’s faster if I just do it myself.”
  • “I can do it so much better than they can.”
  • “I can’t afford for them to make a mistake.”
  • ”My people can’t take on any more than they already have.”

4. Once you’ve created some empty space in your calendar and stockpiled your strategic energy, don’t give it all away! We can get so used to running at full speed that we feel uncomfortable without the constant motion. Just keep in mind that you have better, more strategic, uses for your time.