The Best Kept Secret of Leadership: Do Less, Focus More

As you wade through the stress of a turbulent and uncertain world, do you find yourself demanding more from yourself and your employees? This often happens when your brain is trapped in protection mode. According to a blog post published by the Harvard Business Review, “...research has shown that the more executives have to do, the less their company earns.”

Add technology to the equation and stressed-out leaders and employees are spending more time at home checking emails as well as working on and thinking about work. According to a survey by Right Management, one out of three employees in North America said they often get emails they must reply to from their bosses during weekends.  “It’s now taken for granted that everyone has to check their work email during the weekend,” says Douglas J. Matthews, Right Management’s president.

As a result, our “work brain” never stops whirring. These intrusions cut out down time unless you go on a real vacation, something few Americans take these days.

Has all this extra work paid off? No. In fact, the never-ending work cycle is detrimental to productivity.

I was teaching a class for a group of managers who worked for a French bank in Moscow. One woman told me that she started her career working for an American bank. She had great aspirations of success. As her manager demanded more and more of her time, insisting she work harder and faster on so many “priorities” that she had to take work home, she found herself overwhelmed, exhausted, and always on the brink of tears. She knew her work suffered as well.

The story has a happy ending. She quit and went to work for a French bank. Her managers helped her discern top priorities from less-important tasks and encouraged her to maintain a healthy lifestyle. She followed the “do less and focus more” rule. She is not only happier, she is more productive. Her good work has earned her two promotions in three years. The French-based bank is currently more successful than the American bank she worked for.

Leaders who chase every opportunity and feel their teams must excel at every objective on their list are running resources too thin. Focus is then scattered, killing any chance that the leader and the organization will stand out as superior in one particular area which is critical to be a competitive success.

The question is, “What is your mission as a Leader?”

Are you supposed to focus on getting many results or getting an extraordinary result or two?

To get extraordinary results, you have to be aware of the impact your requests have both on yourself and on your employees. As my colleague, executive coach Val Williams says,

“When leaders follow this ‘more, better and faster’ strategy they’re often surprised that instead of achieving confidence in their success, they feel ore burned out and insecure. When you employ this strategy of ‘do more, faster’ over the long-term, then you actually become more reactive, less strategic and frankly, more replaceable.”

If instead you focus on your highest priorities and inspire others to do their best on the tasks that give them both good results and a feeling of pride, then you are giving everyone a chance to apply their best selves to their jobs. This includes making sure people have time to rest their bodies and brains so they can create and produce top quality work.

The more complex a situation, the more there is a chance to overload your cognitive resources. When you instead sleep on it, or distract yourself with something mindless, you give your unconscious a chance to sort through possible solutions which is more effective than consciously trying to sift through pros and cons.

TIP #1: Taking a nap or letting your mind wander gives your brain a chance to process complex decisions. Set an alarm for 20 or 30 minutes. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Even if you don’t fall asleep, this relaxation will ensure you rest. If you can’t sit still, play a computer game or read a mindless magazine to keep from thinking about work. This enables your brain mind to relax and open up, leading to both higher concentration as well as productivity when you return your focus to your work.

TIP #2: Lindsey Paho, writing on behalf of Colorado Technical University suggests you determine your own sense of balance. What can you accomplish without feeling stressed and overwhelmed? What tips you over the edge? When you are aware of your own limits, you can design a schedule that keeps you sane.

TIP #3: Lindsey also suggests you get over yourself and ask for help when you need it. As a leader, you don’t have to be the superstar lone ranger. Modeling rationality for your employees is better than demonstrating stressed-out self-reliance.

Do you want your organization to win? Re-evaluate your mission. Are you pushing for expected results or are you creating the space for extraordinary results? The latter requires you do less with more focus.

In the end, you and your employees will have better ideas, make more sales, complete more projects, better answer critical emails and collaborate in a way that is needed for amazing results.

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