Brandt On Leadership -- Managing For A Higher Purpose

Dec. 21, 2004
If you are trapped by time and tasks, it's time to redo your to-do.

Everywhere I turn, I see people who think that the only response to a downturn is to work harder. These people aren't slackers to begin with; most are already working 10 to 12 hours a day. And while some people now wear their fatigue as badges of honor, I'm reminded of how a colleague once described a co-worker who boasted of working from 7 in the morning to 7 at night: "If it took me 12 hours a day to do my job, I don't think I'd brag about it." Contrast that with one of the most successful manufacturing CEOs I ever met: He had trouble getting out of bed before 9 a.m. He was an attorney with no manufacturing experience. He suffered heart trouble that forced him to reassess his life in his mid-40s, after which he refocused his daily efforts and, in short order, built an industrial empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars -- not by working harder, but by working smarter and more in concert with his talents and purpose. Unfortunately, most of us manage ourselves not according to our talents and purpose, but according to time and tasks: Time: Most of us manage our lives and our companies by allocating attention to requests as if we were vending machines for time: Somebody asks to see us, we deliver an hour of our day. Somebody calls or e-mails, we deliver 10 minutes for a response. Somebody else needs a memo or report, we deliver an evening or weekend. Yet we never question whether our responsiveness actually achieved anything -- other than making sure that we receive even more requests. News flash: Execs with perfect records for responding but who don't create value get fired. Start asking yourself whether the batch of e-mails you just finished really added value for customers or the company -- and what you might have done instead. Tasks: Others of us move from managing our time to organizing our tasks and priorities. At first this seems to be a great improvement: Instead of meekly responding to every demand, we decide when and to what we will respond. The problem is that most of us have so many requests for our time at work -- not to mention at home, at church, at school, in the community -- that our priority lists stretch from here to retirement. News flash: If your daily to-do list has more than three top priorities, you haven't really made a decision about what's important. Either trim the list or accept the fact that you will always feel swamped, desperate and unsuccessful. Purpose: The most difficult thing for leaders is to organize according to purpose, both for themselves and for their organizations. Why? Because unlike focusing on, say, lean strategies, purpose seems soft. Because unlike focusing on inventory or cashflow, purpose seems hopelessly long-term in its payoff. Because unlike focusing on time or tasks, purpose requires thought and courage on the part of individual managers and employees. Yet the longer I study, advise and lead companies, the more convinced I become that the difference between success and failure is one thing: purpose. Simply put, leaders who imbue organizations with a mission beyond merely making money -- something that can capture the imagination and hearts of customers, employees and partners alike -- are consistently more profitable than those who don't. Making sure that your days are organized by purpose -- and understanding how each hour and task serves that purpose -- will create success whether you get out of bed at 9 a.m. or noon. Without that same commitment, you can work 12 hours a day forever and never come close. How are you managing time, priorities and purpose at your organization? More importantly, how are you managing your life? John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute, a research and consulting firm.

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