Friday, October 9, 2009

Focus, Focus, Focus

What do you think about Tiger Woods’ tennis game? Dr Anthony Fauci’s work on continental drift? Itzhak Perlman’s work in oils? Steve Job’s work in aircraft design?

The short answer is that you don’t. And there is a reason for this: great achievement requires focus and years of effort. Could Tiger Wood’s have a great tennis game? Certainly. But, it would be at a cost: he wouldn’t be the world’s greatest golfer. Dr. Fauci could undoubtedly master geo-physics, but only at the expense of the work he has done in immunology. The four individuals above are all bright ,talented men. And all have sacrificed greatly to achieve the level of expertise they enjoy. And so it goes. Every field requires both focus and sacrifice, because every time you choose to spend more time on your chosen field, you have less time to spend on other areas of interest.

But you MUST do that to succeed as a leader. First, you must focus on the few key issues that surround your strategic goals. You will never be a world-class trap and skeet shooter and a world class leader of a growing business at the same time. If you want to be a world leading research biologist AND run a successful chemical plant the odds are you will do neither. Pick one. Second, you will find as you rise in seniority in your field that many people will want you to spend time on their issue. Sometimes you must, it is unavoidable. This is particularly true as your position becomes more public. But understand that very time you do so, you lose time you could be spending on your key issues.

The history of the US Presidency is illustrative: the great presidents have all been men who focused on one or two great issues, and generally let other issues slide, handled by either the bureaucracy or generally ignored by the executive. They focused their energies on several major issues, rarely more than three during their entire term in office. Even with the huge support staffs that the White House has sustained throughout most of the last century, Presidents have found it very difficult to substantively address more than a few issues over the course of four years. Presidents who have dabbled in issue after issue while appearing in support of cause after cause have maintained their popularity but accomplished little.

If that is the case for that level of leadership, how much more so for you? In fact, one of the real problems for small and medium sized companies is that there is so much for the CEO/President/’Boss’ to do – must do - that does take away your time from your company goals. It is incumbent on you to delegate as much as you can to others, focus your energies on the two or three key issues, ignore a host of ‘other’ issues, and recognize that this is the price you pay for success.

Time is the most expensive ‘commodity’ you have to manage: spend it wisely.


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