Priority #1…Leaders Own Priorities

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about priorities. Now, for the record: I love coffee, but I don’t wake up, grab my coffee, and get lost for hours thinking about priorities. So why now? Well, too frequently, I’ve heard some recurring themes among rising leaders: “If my boss would just tell me what my priorities are, I could get something done.” Or, “I don’t know my priorities.” When I hear phrases like these, alarms go off, I see flashing red lights, and my concern meter kicks into high gear because I can spot the trap these leaders are headed toward. Phrases like those I mentioned are often a “lemming-like” default response, an excuse. Or they may highlight a lack of initiative or even be an indication of some fixed mindset tendencies. More importantly, from a leadership perspective, they often illuminate a limiting behavior that can impede a leader’s influence and impact.

If you’re a leader, keep reading; the good part is coming. It’s worth a few minutes of your time to think about and reflect on priorities. Really, it’s just a few minutes and far less time than it takes to drink a cup of coffee or double-latte whatever. Let’s start with some fundamental “truths.”

3 Fundamental Truths About Priorities

Truth #1 Priorities are a leadership responsibility. That’s right: if you are a leader, you own them. Don’t wait for someone else to tell you. If your priorities are out of alignment, someone will let you know. But that’s a far better conversation than the one you’ll have after waiting around for your priorities to magically appear from on high.

Truth #2 Priorities enable leaders to provide focus and direction for their teams, allocate resources, keep things moving, and get things done. That’s why they’re called priorities. Priorities help keep everyone oriented and are a useful means to fight through all the daily hyper-connected forces that constantly try to pull us off course.

Truth #3 Leaders establish priorities, communicate them, and routinely assess and adjust them as necessary. You have to think about what’s important, tell your team what’s important, and adjust priorities as things change. And things always change. Don’t change your priorities with the frequency of change in the stock market, but make changes when it makes sense.

Now that we’ve reviewed the fundamental truths about priorities, here are a few pro tips that will take your game to the next level and impress at least one peer, one direct report—and maybe your boss and boss’s boss. Really, these tips can help.

3 Pro-Tips For Priorities

Pro Tip #1 Develop your priorities with time horizons. Here are the priorities for the next 30, 60, 90 days, for the first and second quarters, etc. This is about thinking forward, beyond the next email, the meeting tomorrow, or what’s happening next week. Thinking forward helps you move forward. You get the idea.

Pro Tip #2 Link your priorities to your team’s core function, higher-level organizational initiatives or overall strategic direction and guidance. This connects what’s important for your team to accomplish, but also makes connections to the “bigger picture” at the organizational or enterprise level. Making these linkages often answers the “why are we doing something” question. This also helps to broaden your organizational view and thinking, a skill that becomes more important in higher-level leadership roles.

Pro-Tip #3 Revisit your priorities at team meetings and with your boss. The priorities that you establish should be part of your agenda in every team meeting, and you should ask your team if any of the priorities need to be adjusted because something has changed. Your team will appreciate the invitation for input. When you talk with your boss, have a dialogue about priorities. Let them know what your priorities are and how you see them supporting the organization’s initiatives and direction. Most importantly, ask them if they agree and adjust as needed. Good bosses will greatly appreciate this conversation.

So there you have it. I’ve been thinking a lot about priorities because I want to see rising leaders succeed and reach their full potential. In less than the time it took to finish a cup of coffee (can you tell I like coffee?), you have some fundamental truths and some pro tips to think about. If you’re a leader, what are your priorities?

What am I thinking about next? Why leaders should keep organizational processes on their radar.

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