Making a difference as a leader right now!

It is exciting to begin a new year. Fresh start, new goals, and aspirations personally and for the organization. Let’s deconstruct how to make the most of this year for your business.

Adjusted for holidays and weekends, there are about 248 business days each year, 62 days per quarter, and roughly 21 operating days per month. Most executives estimate that 70%-80% of their time is not allocated at their discretion (meaning they are subject to mandatory meetings, administrative tasks, time required by other stakeholders, audits, and the like). That distills into 13 days per quarter (in aggregate) to make your impact; roughly 130 hours. The strategic leadership question: How will you invest those hours to make your most meaningful impact?

How will you influence the selection of the most impactful activities, performed effectively, each available hour this month to move your business as far as possible in the direction toward your long-term vision?

Here are three ideas to help you answer this question and raise your strategic leadership acumen:

De-emphasize the annual calendar

It may seem counterintuitive yet managing exclusively to the annual plan has drawbacks. Big goals can be overwhelming. Deconstructing each into digestible pieces that play to your team’s competencies makes goals more manageable and better informs the activities necessary for successful fulfillment.

While a company’s vision changes infrequently, the path to its fulfillment can change as conditions shift. Managing monthly goals enables greater flexibility when early signs of changing conditions emerge. The best strategic plan is one that guides daily discretionary activities executed in alignment with the long-term vision.

Compare plans with activity capacity

Deconstructing annual and strategic plans into daily activities, performed in increments of 21 business days, enables leaders to ask: How does the plan compare with our capacity to perform required activities? Can we realistically perform this set of tasks effectively over the next calendar month?

Understanding capacity is a powerful foundation for establishing goals, even those requiring a stretch. “Good to Great” author Jim Collins describes “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” as a powerful mechanism to stimulate progress, as they require building for the long term and exuding a relentless sense of urgency today. Leaders must combine the drive to achieve aspirational goals with a clear understanding of the organization’s capacity. From there, they must allocate capacity for the highest, greatest application of all resources.

Daily gut checks

Perhaps the greatest challenge leaders face is managing their attention. Continuous distractions operate like an undercurrent pulling us from our focus. Much of our time is not within our control. Leader effectiveness is heavily impacted by the use of discretionary time — that portion of your calendar you do control. Apply attention during discretionary time to those activities where you can have the greatest impact and contribute the largest ROI. Gut check questions are:

  • Where will I add the greatest value to the organization today?
  • How do I make the most of my discretionary time today in alignment with the organization’s goals?
  • Which activities will have the lowest ROI from investing my attention, and should be avoided?

Leaders set the tone through focus and alignment with organizational priorities. Making our time count enhances productivity and demonstrates strategic leadership on a daily basis.

Making a difference as a leader right now means aligning today’s activities with the organization’s vision. Why focus on vision? An ancient proverb says vision without action is a daydream; action without vision is a nightmare.

When organizations begin with a clear picture of their contribution to the world and why it matters, they establish a destination. Everything else follows the vision: priorities, activities, processes, and results. Make a difference today by investing your discretionary time mindfully to have a meaningful impact on advancing your business.


Originally published on SMARTBRIEF, January 29, 2024
Image: Atomic62 Studio / Getty Images