3 things leaders should prioritise right now (and always, actually)

Last week, I contributed to an article in Inc. Magazine about how prioritising is one of the key things leaders can do to safeguard themselves and those they lead from burnout. You can read the full article here.

But prioritising is a pretty worthwhile talent for leaders to get the hang of anytime – and not just when it comes to burnout prevention. In fact, I’d say it’s up there with self-awareness and listening when it comes to essential leadership skills.

There are three things that leaders should be prioritising right now.

Confession: this list started out as five. But then I realised – that’s an oxymoron; five priorities makes a mockery of the word. It should be a maximum of three. Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism – the great book on this topic – would probably raise his eyebrow at me if I had listed five.

So here they are: three things you should prioritise as a leader right now during COVID19:

Your own mental, physical and emotional wellness.

If there was ever a time for modelling resilience, it’s now. Put your own oxygen mask on first before supporting others. You won’t be much use to your team if you’re in ‘back up, stressed out, blithering’ mode. And if you’re not convinced of the link between our bodies and leadership performance, check out this blog post I wrote a while back. It has some compelling evidence.

So, do something every day to move your body to a sweat.

Do something every day that helps you recalibrate mentally.

Do something just for you, that lifts your spirits or helps you relax.

For me, that’s a run or f45 online workout (physical tank filling), a 10 minute morning meditation (mental tank filling) and a 30 minute walk with my 11 year old daughter to our special rock where she babbles at me incessantly and I love it (spirit tank filling). And sometimes, it’s a decent glass of Pinot and a bout of Netflix with a cat on my lap! Whatever you do right now, make looking after your physical and mental health a big priority. One resource I love for this sort of stuff is Best of Today. It’s a brain-based well-being programme which focus’ on these energy tanks.  

Connect more regularly one-on-one and as a team (with an increased focus on wellbeing).

Feelings of isolation and anxiety are going to be present in some shape or form in at least some of your team. Mix up some team-based video catch ups with some regular one-on-one connection with each person. Some simple but useful coaching questions for your one-on-ones might include:

  • “On a scale of 1-10, how is your wellbeing today?” or….
  • “How are you today?” Followed by good listening. The addition of the word ‘today’ is a useful one. How someone was yesterday can be quite different to how they are feeling today and this anchors them to give you a concrete answer beyond just “I’m fine”.
  • “What is your one priority for today/this week?” Getting them to name it helps personal accountability and focus.
  • “What is one specific thing I can do to support you right now? It can be something I’m already doing which you want me to keep doing…”
  • What has been a highlight for you this week? What has been a challenge?

For a team check in: You can still adapt the questions above, but also here are some others:

  • What are our two big priorities this coming week? How will we know we have succeeded in achieving them – in other words, what will success look like at the end of this week if we succeed in these two things? Do we need to measure progress? If yes, how?
  • What are our biggest barriers or challenges? What are the risks to us achieving these two priorities above? What are some ideas for how we can mitigate or overcome these risks?
  • And in the spirit of Essentialism, “what is one thing we might consider dropping from our collective to-do list right now? Anything we should ditch or delay?”

Prepare for once lockdown lifts and beyond.

Spend some time with your team exploring what might be ahead and how you might navigate the post-lockdown period. It’s hard to predict the future right now as it’s so unknown and volatile. But your role as a leader is not only to consider and lead your team through the now, but to start to look for opportunities and ideas for tomorrow.

The book Decisive has a great technique for this, called “book ending the future”.  Ask your team to consider the future, not as a single point, but as a range of outcomes. Ask, “It’s a year from now. Our decision has utterly failed. Why?” (Lower bookend). “It’s a year from now. We’re heroes. Will we be ready for success?” (Upper bookend).

Here are a couple of other thought starters you could workshop with your team for the next phase. I would also use the brainstorming techniques I outline in this blog to facilitate a group session on this:

  • What are three things we can do in the next 90 days that would make a 50% difference to where we’ll end the year? (Thanks Bob Tiede for that great question!)
  • This next question has three parts:
    • When we look at the external landscape over the next three months, what might be several potential scenarios?
    • Given the landscape we have just described, how might we pivot our team/business to capture opportunities that come with this landscape and better protect ourselves from risk? Simply put, what might we ditch, tweak or change? (One of these strategy frameworks can be useful for helping to scope this out).
    • What is the most important insight and ‘next step’ action we need to take from Part A and Part B of this exercise?

So there you have it; the three things you should prioritise right now as a leader.

First, look after your own mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

Next, ensure you are focusing on team connection with an extra emphasis on their wellbeing.

And finally, plan for the next phase of your organisation beyond lockdown.

In times of uncertainty, your team look to you to know what to do. More importantly, they look to you for what not to do.  That’s where prioritising not only helps them, but you too, as you move on from lockdown.

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2 Comments

  1. Lynette Evans on April 17, 2020 at 9:01 am

    Awesome – awesome guidance from you Suzi! This is particularly supportive to me as a leader just stepping back in following a Term of leave into our different World!! Appreciate your blogs so much. Thankyou Suzi. Lynette Evans Nelson

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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