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Know What is Important and What is Not (pages 127-129)

Part One: Leadership Strategies, 2. Core Tenets, L. Know What is Important and What is Not, (pages 127-129)


L. Know What is Important and What is Not

A black belt in jiu-jitsu and a battlefield commander can both see past insignificant movements and focus on the significant things. Any good leader can “discriminate between what is important and what is not.” Changes are occurring both externally, weather, the market, enemy behaviors, and internally, morale, health, emotions. The successful leader embraces that “change is the reality of life” and that everything is consistently transforming. The key is to be able to filter inconsequential change from critical change. Just as the black belt ignores distractive movement to save energy, the leader must also learn to do the same. Just as the conservation of energy is important to the black belt, timely decisions are essential for effective leadership. To be effective, the leader “must detach, take a step back, and assess whether or not any detail in a situation matters.” While this can take time, this process allows the leader not to get involved in trivial matters and allows them to focus on what is important. Which in the long run, will save time. The leader should avoid getting involved in tactical situations to have their attention on the mission. The four questions they should ask themselves are “How will this problem impact the team’s strategic goals? Can it cause mission failure? Is it worth my time and effort to engage in it? How bad can it get if I leave it alone?” The answers to these questions should make it apparent to the leader on how to act. When in doubt, the leader should not get involved in problems. “The goal is always to allow problems to get solved at the lowest level.” However, if a leader consistently removes themselves from problems solving, they risk the problem growing out of control and possibly jeopardizing the mission. The key is the “detach, assess, and make good solid decisions about what is important and what is not.”

For the novice administrator, the ability to differentiate between trivial and important matters is a very difficult task. Administrators are viewed as problem solvers. Whether in be the disruptive student, poor traffic flow during drop-off/pick-up times, an extremely loud lunchroom, or a dissatisfied parent, the staff of the building look to the administrator to fix the issue. The new administrator, to be seen as effective, will often take on problems that they should not. This is not done out of ignorance, but to keep their building running smoothly. Sometimes it’s simply to be liked. However, by consistently solving other's problems, the administrator can create a staff that becomes reliant on him/her to solve their issues. This then leads to the administrator taking too much time fixing other's issues and not focusing on the larger more important building-level concerns. Additionally, dependent staff can sometimes begin to shirk their duties knowing the administrator will be there to clean up their mess. To avoid this, I remind my administrators of the phrase, “not my circus, not my monkeys”. Sometimes, this does not have the effect I intend as my administrators continue to take on other's problems. I then ask them to read about Japanese automobile manufacturing after World War II and how they became a leader in the auto industry surpassing the United States. Specifically, I want them to understand how Andon was an effective problem-solving strategy. In essence, the Japanese allowed line-level employees to not only identify problems but also fix them on the spot. The American method did not allow for line-level intervention to save the cost of shutting down the line. However, this then led to problems being passed on causing a drastic reduction in quality. You let the ones closest to the problem fix it. It will almost always be a better solution and more efficient. It also then allows the leaders to focus on the bigger picture.

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© 2019 by Erik Bentzel. 

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