When Things Really Matter

In a Major League Baseball season there are 162 regular season games. Pretty much every team will win 60 and every team will lose 60. It’s what happens in the other 42 that matters. It’s knowing which 42 games will make the difference that really matters.

The most effective leaders know that not every decision is life, or business changing. What makes them effective is knowing which ones may be and which one most definitely are. The most effective leaders know which 42 games they MUST win.

They know that when they are in the middle of one of those “must wins” that they must lead, most likely from the front. They are less likely to delegate and more likely to micro-manage. Actually effective leaders wouldn’t admit to micro-managing, they are in a “must win” situation and they are just “making sure.”

But what exactly is so critically urgent that an effective leader wouldn’t dare delegate it? Not much as it turns out should be so urgent that it can’t be delegated… or just eliminated.

A long time ago I was promoted to my first management position as Sales Manager for a soda pop company. Not too long after that promotion I received a 4:00am phone call that our delivery drivers had just gone out on strike and everyone in management had to come in immediately.

Shortly after that I had this neat new uniform and a spot on a truck delivering pop to grocery stores and bars. I wasn’t meant for that kind of work to begin with but I was really unprepared to do that all day and then my real job at night.

A short day was 18 hours and even with that I fell behind. I lived in my office for several weeks and still I fell further behind. My desk was a sea of paper stacked several inches high.

I was overwhelmed.

One morning about 2:00am I went into the warehouse and grabbed one of those big trash dumpsters on wheels. I pushed it to my office and threw every piece of paper on my desk away.
A few hours later as my colleagues begin passing my office they would all look at my desk in amazement with the same question; What happened?

I said only that I had a very productive night.

Here’s the truly amazing part, with the exception of a couple of documents that needed signing I never heard a word about anything I had thrown away. Not a word.

It was then that I realized this leadership truth: never underestimate the absolute unimportance of almost everything you do. Most of the things we stress over just don’t really matter. There are few things in life that are truly important and we miss too many of them by focusing on the stuff that isn’t important. We fall victim to the “urgent curse,” doing what seems to be urgent rather than doing the truly important.

We try to focus on too much and forget that “over focusing” is like wearing Milk Bone underwear in a dog eat dog world. We’re going to be eaten alive and it ain’t going to be pretty.

Successful leaders don’t mistake the urgent for the truly important.

As a leader you should not be doing anything that someone else on your team could be doing. If you’re doing anything that someone else could do then your not doing something that only you can. You, I’m sorry to say, are holding back productivity in every direction.

You have 120 games that are going to happen with you or without you. Some will be won and some will be lost and it won’t really matter.

It’s in those 120 games that you build your future leaders. Those are the times that hold the decisions you allow others to make. Those are the times when you just get out of the way and let other leaders stretch their leadership wings. The outcome won’t matter much. What will matter is that THEIR actions and decisions led to an outcome. They can see the results of THEIR decisions and learn from them.

When their day comes to lead the way in the “must win” 42 games you will have prepared them to succeed.

That’s Leadership!

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