When I work with leaders on their Priority 1-2-3, A-B-C List, a frequent question usually is:  How do I decide what the three most important things are?  It’s a good question, because your Priority List is not a typical To-Do list.

There’s an important difference between tasks that should be handled and those that should be delegated.  Leaders need to focus on tasks that require a special expertise, personal involvement, and advocacy.  They invest time in strategic thinking, articulating ideas in speeches, articles and memos, and tackling tasks that carry a higher risk.

Here are some guidelines to help you figure out what belongs on your Priority List.  This is just a starting point – feel free to tailor it to your particular industry and needs.

Be strategic

Every successful leader has some form of strategy on their plate.  What will help you to think strategically, anticipate future ideas and direction, and plan for success?  Priority List items may include:

  • Connect the dots between your strategic plan and leadership goals.
  • Get your board educated on a specific topic that relates to your long-term strategy.
  • Challenge your perspective by engaging in dialogue with others in – and outside of – your industry.
  • Read The Nine Roles of Strategic Leadership for more ideas.  At the end of the article there’s a great appendix that outlines the Nine Roles.

Form and strengthen relationships

Leaders who succeed invest time and energy in relationships with their boards and leadership team, key clients, and peers.  They know it’s that important to build relationships with others to share information about their work, areas of focus, and ideas for future planning.  Good leaders also listen well, making sure they really understand another vision or point of view.  Priority List items may include:

  • One of those coffees or lunches you never seem to have time for, phone conversations or even a golf game with a key partner or vendor.
  • Acknowledge the contributions of others, celebrate achievements and delight in the accomplishments of your team.
  • Any activity that builds trust, gives you an opportunity to learn about the priorities of others and form ideas.

Coach and develop people

Every good leader I know sets aside priority time for each of the people who can affect their team’s successes and outcomes.  These leaders know their staff well, and can articulate specific goals, areas of passion, special skills and capabilities, areas of concern or anxiety, big ideas, even outside interests. More important, they help their team members convert the passion, ideas and skills into successful work outcomes.  Priority List items may include:

  • Delegate!  It creates learning opportunities for others.  It frees you up, it saves you time.  Delegate something off your plate right now!
  • As you delegate, be intentional about providing on-the-job learning experiences to your team – managing a larger scope, learning across departments, etc.
  • Spend time building your team.  Successful leaders build teams that function well together, support individual members, believe in their own capacity, and stay focused on achieving their objectives.  They help team members understand the roles they play in the bigger picture, and help them find creative ways to contribute to the team’s success.

Need some help sorting through your three most important things?  Feel free to call me.

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