I was reflecting earlier today, on my trundle round the snowy countryside with the dogs, about the nature of leadership – both personal leadership (of self) and the leadership of others (teams, functions, organisations).  It was sparked by a number of conversations I had recently with different people – all with a similar refrain, the relentless grind of daily life and managing conflicting priorities.

Now January for many is a time of starting new things – intentions, habits, resolutions – you name it, people take the opportunity of starting something new that they want to do, with mixed results.  More importantly, given the nature of my musings, was what people also choose to stop, ‘Dry January’ has become something of a ritual for many and is a wonderful example of a conscious decision to cut rather than add to our lives.

I have always said that great leadership was defined by what we choose to stop rather than what we start – starting something is easy, stopping something is much tougher.  In the strategic work I do with clients, the goal is to create a compelling view of the aspirations for the time period in question, shape up the priorities and begin to build a cunning plan to deliver against.  Now invariably, as the team arrive for the session they are already personally and collectively busy, nobody is twiddling their thumbs with not enough to do, so the health warning I \"\"always raise at the start of the session is that as a result of having strategic ambition and intent, you are creating more work for yourselves, but the right work!  Also common, as we get towards the end of the session, is the fact that the team have got energised and excited by the future aspirations and at no time during the definition of the priorities have they considered what they need to stop.  It is easy for me to point that out, and in my own business and life I am equally adept at losing sight of the reality and constraints I face, adding to my challenges rather than balancing and prioritising them.

One of the roles of a leader is to be unreasonable, demanding, pushing self and team to ever greater performance which means trying new things, adding to the challenges and stretching resources to optimise the value added.  There is only a finite number of hours in the day and for most organisations a finite amount of resource – so things do begin to give, things fall by the wayside, fail to get finished, suffer from a loss of attention.  But are these the right things?  If I think about myself – when I am stretched and busy, the things that typically fall off my radar are the hardest more difficult and uncomfortable activities – like lead development – but these are often the most important strategically.  Without making conscious and strategic decisions about what to actually stop – the organisation or individual defaults to stopping the things they like least, find hardest or have least energy for, are they the right things for you or for your team?

To stop something, to redirect organisational or personal resources away from something that we have been doing and potentially getting value from is tough.  I stopped horse riding because I didn’t have the time or the space to do it properly without compromising other things. I miss it and want to start again (pandemic withstanding) but something


will have to give for that to happen.  Not exactly earth shattering, but at the time it was a big decision and enabled me to focus on things that were even more important at that time – like training and climbing Aconcagua.

The nature of priorities is that they are exactly that – “the fact or condition of being regarded or treated as more important than others” – the most important things and not everything can be the most important.  The response to Covid across the world has been a challenging case in point for all political leaders, regardless of your political leanings I would not have relished the challenge that any of those leaders faced, stopping freedoms by starting lockdowns have been the toughest decisions I am sure.  Many of the NHS Trusts have had to stop routine operations, hugely difficult decisions with massive implications for the patients as well as the hospitals – but they had no choice.  We probably have more choices in our businesses and our personal lives – but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be considering what we should stop if we want to be successful in the things that are most important.

“Successful leaders have the courage to take action whilst others hesitate” – John C Maxwell

Often it is the things that were stopped that made the biggest impact on the longer-term success.  So I guess the opportunity is to reflect on \"\"what are the real priorities right now, for you, for your team, for your organisation.  If they are critical, what could be stopped in order to give a better chance of being successful.

One thing I am going to STOP – looking at Social Media during the day – not a priority, yes it can be important for my work, but it would release time to focus on what is really important, redeveloping my business.


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