Leaders Set Goals To Define Priorities

Setting goals as the way to define priorities, whether in business or in personal life, is what leaders do to maintain direction and focus in their organizations and in their personal lives. Unfortunately, many managers take a tremendous amount of potential leverage out of their organizations by not prioritizing.

I had a boss whose standard answer to "What's the most important thing?" was "Everything's the most important thing." What a copout. We were in a crisis mode and there was a lot to get done, but what that "Everything is important" direction led to was a lot of counterproductive behavior - hunker down and keep the boss off your butt by being busy all the time - 24/7 - and ride it out. Do what you're told to do, and then ask "What's next?" After a year of that no leverage management style he was fired - but not until some very good people had left the organization.


Managers that take the "everything is Number 1" approach are often rewarded for being tough, no nonsense, aggressive problem solvers. The fact that many of the problems they solved were created by them seems to go unnoticed. Actually, instead of leadership, they use a brute force approach to getting things done. That often works in a crisis situation, but when everything becomes a crisis, those managers lose their effectiveness and their people become cynical about how they are treated. Brute force managers rarely have goals they share with people, and even more rarely do they have their people participate in any meaningful way in setting goals and priorities. To many of them, sharing information and open communication are threats to their control. Many of them are quite happy with a compliance level workforce - the "Just tell me what to do and I'll do it" people. There is no leverage in the Brute Force management style.

Leaders Set Goals To Define Priorities

How do effective leaders create priorities that maximize their own effectiveness and the effectiveness of their organization?

They start with a clear understanding of what the three to five most important things are, personally or professionally. This is tough - there are always many more issues vying for attention than there are resources available to address them. The leader makes the tough decisions - the Brute Force manager doesn't.

Then the leader enlists people in the areas of importance to help arrive at ways to succeed in meeting the most important requirements.

Then the leader creates and communicates and negotiates goals that support the most important three to five issues, or challenges, or opportunities.

The goals are used to create supporting goals, expectations and understandings of importance in the universe of people that can contribute to meeting the goal.

Then leaders act - and expect action from their people.

Leaders protect their own time, and the time of their people, so that maximum focus can be kept on the critical few, and not frittered away on the unimportant many.

And then leaders evaluate, change if change is necessary, and continue to use the process as the basis for action throughout their organization.

And they insist that this process be kept as simple as possible - minimum bureaucracy here. Don't wait for an enterprise wide software system to capture all the data and signups and goal statements. More good goal setting systems have drowned of their own administrative weight than for any other reason. Leaders fight that. Leaders know the critical intersection in goal setting and prioritizing is at the person to person level - not at the form completion and submission point.

And the resulting action they get is so different from the "Tell me what to do and I'll do it" people. Lots of leverage in a shared goal environment - on both a personal and work level.

Leaders know most people want to help, want to contribute, want to be involved in a worthy enterprise, want to be recognized for their contribution. Leaders also know most people work best and most effectively where they have structure and an understanding of what needs to be done. Once they have that, great things start to happen! They no longer have to say "Just tell me what to do and I'll do it" - they know the priorities and what is most important. They can use the freedom that knowledge provides to keep their eyes on the few big balls - and not be distracted by all the little balls that will always bounce around and take up all the time people will let them take up.

Leaders also know there are times when brute force may be the only appropriate tactic - a public safety health product recall, a natural disaster, a systems failure, a fire - all call for everybody pitching in to get things done - whatever that means. But leaders know the brute force tactic is the exception to the rule, and is only used when absolutely necessary. And their people know it - and rather than take it as just another in a long line of fire drills, they pitch in and know their efforts will be part of a worthy enterprise's efforts to succeed. The result is maximum leverage when needed.

If you work or live in an "Everything is important" situation, be careful of burning out. If you can take what leaders do and apply it to your work and your personal situation two things will happen - you'll have more time for the really important things, and your personal and professional success will increase - I guarantee it. And on those brute force days, or weeks, keep the leader's model of goals to priorities firmly in your sights - and get back to it as soon as possible. Start today.

Leaders Set Goals To Define Priorities

Andy Cox is President of Cox Consulting Group LLC. The focus of his work is on helping organizations and their people increase their success in the hiring, developing and enhancing the performance of leaders and emerging leaders. Cox Consulting Group LLC was started in 1995, and has worked with a wide range of organizations, managers and leaders - helping them define success, achieve success and make the ability to change a competitive advantage. He can be reached at http://coxconsultgroup.com