As a leader, it is easy to get bogged down in the little stuff.
Many of the people you lead will bring you small problems because they haven’t worked for a leader who has required them to act independently (mostly because that leader didn’t trust them to act independently).
Much of what reaches your desk are tiny fires. The nature of the problem requires urgency, and the people who work for you want to make sure that you know what’s going on and weigh in on the decision.
Urgent work gives you a sense of accomplishment. Nothing makes you feel like you’re working more than making decisions and handling the things that need attention. Many people in leadership roles thrive on this work because it feeds their need for significance. But “small fires” isn’t where a leader should spend much of their time.
For many leaders, these “small fires,” keep them from having to do the real heavy lifting of leadership.
It is easier to be frustrated and focused on small stuff than it is to fix the big stuff.
- Strategic Threats: Dealing with urgent issues keeps you busy and prevents you from dealing with the strategic threat facing your business. That threat is so great that there is no easy answer available. But strategic threats left unaddressed makes the future more uncertain and creates additional risks.
- Developing Leaders: Small, urgent issues with relatively easy answers can keep you from spending time developing the next generation of leaders, the important work that is never urgent enough to get a leader’s full attention.
- Biggest Initiatives: There is some work that only a leader can do. There is more work that competent, trusted people can easily do when empowered to take action independently. The small urgent issues still need to be taken care of, but the leader’s job is to ensure that she has the team necessary to handle them so that she can focus on what only the leader can do.
The most dangerous thing a leader can do is to allow small issues to prevent them from pursuing their two or three biggest initiatives. The reason these important initiatives die is because they are neglected when a leader’s time is being devoted to smaller, less important issues.
Where do you spend your time?