Leveraging Leadership Time – The Waterfall Effect

(Author’s Note: The following is a Cliff Note style summary of my keynote presentation and upcoming book titled The Waterfall Effect: Six Principles for Productive Leadership.)



Time is every organization’s most valuable asset.  Yet it is a non-renewable resource; once gone it cannot be recaptured.  Thus, leaders must leverage their time to remain productive.

The Benefits of Leveraging Leadership Time

Leaders who focus on the right objectives, people and activities are leveraging their time.  The result is called the Waterfall Effect – the cascading benefit that flows down through the organization and out to clients and customers.

How can leaders best leverage their time in today’s always-on, frenetic world? How can they ensure that they’re making the best use of this precious, non-renewable resource to deliver the most productive leadership possible? How can today’s leaders reproduce the Waterfall Effect over and over?



Six Principles for Productive Leadership

The following six principles for productive leadership assist leaders in producing The Waterfall Effect.

1. Developing Field Vision.  Leaders must focus on assimilating and responding to today’s dynamic work environments to remain in command of their organizations.  Here are some ways to accomplish this result.

  • Visualize the path.  By creating a mental path of the route to success, leaders can keep actions, projects and people moving in the right direction.
  • Glance at the goal.  Remaining mindful of, but not entirely focused on, the organization’s objectives allows a leader to move forward in a meaningful but flexible way.
  • Call time out.  Being in charge also means staying in command. Knowing when to step back to gather the group together and refocus the effort is an under-valued skill in today’s frantic world.

2. Keeping the Glass Half Full.  How people feel directly affects how they perform.  Keeping the team’s attitude positive requires effort on the leader’s part.  These suggestions will help.

  • Cultivate every relationship.  Solid relationships among team members (and others) are the glue that keeps a group working cohesively.  Leaders are well advised to remember this timeless fact in the frenzy of e-mails and teleconferences that consume our days.
  • Mandate dignity and respect.  Feeling valued is another emotion-based factor in team dynamics.  If a leader demonstrates dignity and respect for those inside and out of the organization, the message is clear:  people are valuable.
  • Embrace the risk of failure.  The notion that “failure is not an option” is patently ridiculous. Failure is always a possibility.  Leaders who embrace the risk of failure demonstrate true courage to those around them.

3. Leveraging The Value of Silence.  Leaders are regularly guiding others and are often looked to for direction.  So much so that they often forget the benefits that accrue from being quiet.  When working in groups be mindful of the following tenants.

  • Engagement is something they do. Pundits speak often of engagement and the need for leaders to “produce” this result.  The reality is that engagement is a result, not a product.  Team members become engaged versus directed to be so.
  • Count to five. Giving direction is a key leadership function.  However, many times it’s more productive to say nothing.  An effective way to achieve this result is to make a statement, then count to five mentally before saying anything else.  The result can be surprising!
  • Take “me” time.  Just as leaders need to know when to Call Time Out for the team to regroup, so too must the leader recognize the value of taking time to gather his/her thoughts and regenerate energy before launching into the next fray.

4. Peeling Back the Onion.  There is hidden potential in everyone.  Uncovering it is more than a leader’s obligation, it’s a leader’s reward.  There are several mechanisms for mining the potential in others.

  • Mentoring redux.  Mentoring has traditionally focused on development within a job or career. An expanded view of mentoring – something that advances the individual’s interests, as well as career objectives – can uncover previously undiscovered convergent paths.
  • Hire yourself out of job.  Most hiring is focused on filling an immediate need.  This is important.  However, hiring into the future needs of the organization is possibly even more important.  Slowing down during the hiring process and challenging candidates during interviews can ferret out those who may possess skills and aptitudes better suited to the organization’s long-term goals.
  • Guide versus direct.  Leaders who constantly answer questions are training team members to be question askers.  Conversely, most people are hired to be solution finders. Instead of just answering every question asked, leaders can achieve a better result by asking leading questions.  This guides the team to the right answer, a much better learning experience for everyone.

5. Setting the Bar.  Given the current speed of interaction, setting and managing expectations has never been more important to individual or group success.  These are the guideposts to facilitate this result.

  • Start on the right foot. The best time to set expectations is when a relationship – internal or external – is new.  Leaders who communicate how to best to work together (including response times, etc.) to others are leveraging their time at a critical point of engagement.
  • Clarity is king. A sign of great leadership is to give clear instruction to others, including specific deadlines.  The minor effort it takes to accurately define what is needed when provides needed clarity to team members who are also dealing with their own frenetic work environment.
  • Be a hero not a zero.  The most common leadership failure is overcommitting and under-performing.  This is largely the result of misplaced optimism – the belief that more will get done in a given time frame than actually occurs.  A terrific way to remedy this behavior is to intentionally under commit and over perform. In the end, everyone is happier and the stress level of the entire team goes down.

6. Triaging Priorities. The modern working environment can be likened to a medical emergency room where constant triaging must be done to ensure the best outcome.  When the day gets hectic leaders are encouraged to remember these principles.

  • Multi-taking is impossible.  More and more neurological studies are proving what most of us already know – multi-tasking is impossible.  Focus is where productivity lies and leaders who pursue quiet spaces to work for themselves and their team members produce the best result.
  • Use a simple sorting system.  Information is constantly flowing at us. Using a simplified sorting system to separate what is necessary and what is irrelevant will keep the requisite administrative time to a minimum.  QuietSpacing® – one such system – mandates that there are only four types of information: trash, archive, reference and work.  Use it or another system to maximize leadership time.
  • Secure clear deadlines. The cousin to clarity is king, securing clear deadlines from others allows leaders to properly prioritize the work.  Often persistence and diplomacy are needed in this pursuit, but the rewards outweigh the effort.

Remaining in Command
 

Today’s world is demanding. That means today’s leaders need some simple tools to lead productively.  The six principles listed above, along with their corresponding implementation suggestions, will help you and your people produce the cascading of benefit promised by The Waterfall Effect.

© 2012, Paul H. Burton. All rights reserved.


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