Fast and Now

With seniority comes the opportunity for leverage. Our rate-limiting factor is no longer what we, personally, can do; it is what we, the collective, can do, and our job is to maximize that.

I’ve written before about the three jobs of any leader: making decisions; making the people around you better; and doing stuff.

Counterintuitively, the first two are the most important because they are much more scalable than “doing stuff.”

The question then arises: what does it look like when someone does this effectively?

The senior leader is faced with the following question in every moment of the day:

Of the million things that are going on right now (that I’m aware of) which of these needs my attention and my voice right now?

What does it take for this person to successfully answer this question day in and day out?

To makes sense of this, consider: her job is not just to make decisions; it is, more importantly, to quickly and effectively decide where to weigh in. To do this, both her decision-making and her meta-cognition need to operate at a very high level.

The only way she can survive and consistently add value in this maelstrom is if she:

  • Has easy access to the right information (from dashboards; from colleagues; etc.). She is IN the information flow and has open, trusting relationships with the right folks in the organization.
  • Processes all of this information quickly and acts decisively (“I can ignore all of these things, and these things need my attention right now.”)

Her job is to constantly be getting new information and successfully deciding: where to act; how loudly her voice should be heard; when to ensure that things are continuing or accelerating; and when to redirect or even stop.

There’s no way she will pull this off if she is not both fast and deciding now.

I often remind myself and my team that, to make lasting change, our work is a marathon, not a sprint.

However, the requirement of “fast and now” brings to mind the capabilities of a soccer player, not a marathoner.

As leaders, we need to be able to accelerate quickly for a short distance, over and over again. This skill allows us to achieve a high throughput on all the inputs we see, so that we can add value when and where it’s most needed.

Conversely, if it takes us a long time to process and decide—if we’re slow to get to maximum velocity and then to act—it will be harder for us to consistently add value in the way that we want and that our teams need.

There’s likely no shortcut to developing this ability, but we can keep an eye out for the things that slow us down. Things like:

  • Putting off the hard decisions until we have “enough time” or our to do list is clean.
  • Being unwilling to take a stand based on what our experience and pattern recognition tell us.
  • Feeling the need to weigh in on every important decision.
  • Not trusting our team to make tough calls.

Being unwilling to create clarity in the face of dissenting voices, for fear that someone won’t be happy with our decision.

It helps to remind ourselves that most of the decisions we make are Type 2 decisions—they are relatively easy to reverse—and that the enemy of progress is lack of clarity and the unwillingness to take a stand.

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