I could not believe what my eyes were reading and my ears were hearing. While sitting in a physical and mental posture of learning, I was waiting for my Professor of Record in a doctorate program to share the first point of his opening lecture entitled “Becoming the Leaders We Need to Be.”

The first point: Leaders do what needs to be done. My first reaction: I’m disappointed; it’s too obvious; it’s too simple. As I continued to listen, I realized that it is not obvious and it certainly is not simple. Even if the point is stated in simplicity, it is not an easy principle to apply.

Effective leaders ask, “What needs to be done?” These are the exact words of leadership guru Peter Drucker.

My professors, Dr. Leith Anderson and Peter Drucker start explaining this principle with almost exactly the same sub-point: Notice, the question is not, “What do I want to do?”

The question is a difficult one to answer yet it is also the path to accomplishing what is best for the enterprise: the business, the ministry, the family, and even toward a healthy self.

The answer almost always brings several topics, tasks, and tensions to the surface. Most leaders are tempted to lobby for more than one top priority because to ignore some over the highest initiative seems naïve and shortsighted. But we must focus our attention on one thing at a time. To be effective, you must choose what needs to be done and fully invest in that one thing.

Here’s how: The question “What needs to be done?” is a question of strategy over tactics. In other words, the context of the question should have a one to three-year scope in mind. Using this boundary, let’s rephrase the question. What is our highest priority over the next one to three years?

The answer to the question could be what we should stop doing as well as what we should start doing. Certainly, we will have several competing answers. Then what?

Five Steps:

  • Step One: Try to have no more than a few key initiatives and then prioritize.
  • Step Two: Ask, “What is best for the enterprise?” This question is especially important to family-oriented organizations that tend to promote on the basis of relations over performance.
  • Step Three: Ask yourself which one of the top priorities are you best suited to lead and most important for the enterprise. Make that initiative your answer to the question, “What needs to be done?”
  • Step Four: Delegate other priorities to capable team members and create a communication and empowerment system.
  • Step Five: Once your highest initiative is accomplished, ask yourself the same question again instead of moving on to the previous ranking of priorities. Rarely do the priorities stay the same especially when an organization is achieving its goals.

Focus has always been an important ingredient in accomplishing goals. Ask yourself what needs to be done; otherwise, you will tend to gravitate to what you want to do which is rarely the right thing.


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