Nature is awesome. It is perfect. It has adapted to changing circumstances over millions of years. The organisms that have made it this far have done so because they have spent many millennia fighting to adapt.
Let us look and learn from nature, for it contains principles that we can adopt, apply to our world of work, and thereby achieve success.
Imagine you are on safari. The burning sun sears your skin. You are patient, but also excited. From your hideout in the bush, you are observing a pride of lions. They have spent the past few hours dozing in the sun. Suddenly, a lioness rises and the whole pride awakens. It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for: The pride has seen a herd of antelope wandering by in search of water. The hunt begins. While the lionesses spring into action, the pride leader continues to lie leisurely draped across his rock. You watch as the lionesses make themselves ready for the hunt, yet the lion seems to have completely different priorities…
What do think about this riddle? How can you get the contents of 3 bottles of orange juice – each holding 0.2 L – into 2 glasses at the same time when these also hold 0.2 L each?
Any good ideas?
What would your answer be?
By the way, drinking one of the bottles and then pouring the others two into the glasses doesn’t count because then the contents are not all in the glasses…
So, any ideas?
In one of my keynote speeches, a managing director suggested, ‘I’d turn the juice into a concentrate.’ Good idea, right? He prioritized the essence of the juice, meaning that some of the H2O is lost. An engineer had the amazing idea of grinding out the inside of the glasses. Of course, while this would allow more to fit in each glass, it would not be able to accommodate the content of all three bottles.
Finally, an assistant said quite simply, ’Well, I guess I need someone with a third glass.’ Exactly! Then everything will fit into the glasses – the three glasses.
The fact is: It won’t work. You cannot fit the contents of three bottles into two glasses at the same time. It’s the same in your job, every single day. And at home too, with your dog, your hobbies, and your family. You can only ever take care of your top priorities, never do everything at once.
So, what should you do?
Of course, you know the answer already: Prioritize! I call it c o n s i s t e n t l y prioritizing. Meaning really taking the time to do the most important things. Now, you will already know that prioritizing is essential, but the problem for many leaders is this: They know this, but they can’t do anything about it. Or perhaps we should say that they prioritize to some extent, but this doesn’t always have the desired results.
In a study by Coretelligence, in which many hundred section and department leaders were surveyed, 6 out of 10 leaders said that they had no time or not enough time for developing, strategizing, and planning. 6 out of 10! Had no time or not enough time to prioritize consistently! How about you?
When you are a leader – be it section leader, CEO, entrepreneur, or team leader – then strategy and planning are THE success factors in your work. Not for your daily work, but more for the quality of your successes at work in general. Without investing this time and without these valuable thoughts, everything becomes uncoordinated, unplanned, and unattainable.
Of course, you can focus on all things important and tangible that crop up in daily operations. You can work on the difficult complaint of a long-standing client whom you know personally. You can solve the problems of your employees or run about extinguishing fires here and there. This all feels good because you are being the much-needed boss. Yes, without you, the boss, nothing would get done.
If this is the case, then in all likelihood you are neglecting your duties as a forecasting planner and thinker because there is simply not enough time in the day.
‘No time’ means ‘I am prioritizing something else’.
When I ask my audience in a leadership presentation ‘Which one of you has enough time for strategy, planning, conception?’, then out of about 100 people, between 0 and 10 will respond. That’s barely touching 10%! And more often it’s only 1 or 2 who raise their arm. In other words, each leader may know the principle of prioritizing – and indeed every leader does – yet most are unable to find enough time for the one success factor that is the most important in the long term. This lack of well-thought-out conception and planning in times of change is deadly for many organizations. You know this too, right?
It’s like smoking. Peter, a friend of mine who is also a founder, owner, and CEO of a very successful company with 50 employees, has been smoking for decades. His doctor showed him the negative effects on his x-ray, and yet he continues to smoke. Sure, it’s only 8 or 9 cigarettes a day now, but he still knows that this burden will cost him five years of his life.
I consider this stupid – for a variety of reasons: First, I like Peter a lot and so I would prefer him not to die just yet. Second, many people like him as a business partner, a boss, a poker player, a friend, and a life partner. Third, the harm of smoking far outweighs any joy he is getting out of it now. And this last reason also forms my hypothesis.
If you as a leader are prioritizing daily operations over regular strategy meetings with your team or by yourself, then – just like with my friend Peter and other smokers – you are risking the life of your business.
Do you want to win? Or do you just want to not lose today?
How well do you want to do your job? 75% or 90-100%? Okay, 100% is a bit ambitious, but we should at least see how close we can get, don’t you think? I am certain that if you want to hit 90%, then you MUST have enough time for strategy, conception, planning. Period.
You probably knew all this before you started to read this article. But, if you are anything like most other leaders, then you won’t do it. Even though you know it.
Okay, so you want to know how you can go about it? Easy: Hunt like a lion. Yes, because the lion does not hunt alone…No, wait a moment. That’s not right. Which members of the pride are responsible for the actual hunt? Yes, most of you will know that it is the lionesses who hunt. This existentially important job of feeding the whole pride has been delegated by the lion. This is a clever bit of letting go. The lionesses are a bit leaner and a lot lighter, meaning they are more agile than the lion and can better keep up with the zigzagging of the antelope. They are simply the better hunter. And by he way, the male lion doesn’t tell the lionesses how to hunt. They make all decisions by themselves in order to be successful hunters.
The pride leader is focused for he has other tasks that he takes care of personally…He must protect the pride’s territory from other prides. THAT is his task. THAT is in his job description. The lion makes sure that the pride even has a territory in which it can hunt.
For this task, he even puts his life on the line.
So, all you leaders out there, hunt like a lion. This also counts for female leaders, of course, for they are the lion, the leader of the pride. Use this link to download a PDF of my Lead Like a Lion postcard. Print it out and put it on your desk – it will remind you every day to c o n s i s t e n t l y set priorities.
And of course, besides strategy, you can also focus on any other task that currently requires your attention. Finishing off this chapter is my priority for today, which is why I sat down at my desk at 8:10 am to write…before doing any other task of the day.
Tip for implementation: Tackle your most important task of the day first thing in the morning. Before you have read your emails or engaged in similar distractions. Perhaps even before you go to the office. It is often difficult to find a calm opportunity once the chaos of everyday life gets going.
So how can you do this exactly? How can you find time for your strategic thinking?
Ask yourself: How much time do you need per day, per week, per month, per quarter, per year for strategy, planning, and conception?
Schedule this time in your calendar, e.g., every Thursday from 7 am to 8 am or every first Thursday in the month from 7 to 11 am. Set a permanent series of appointments for the next ten years. Adapt this schedule to your actual needs.
Turn these strategy meetings into a routine – a ritual if you like – that you do regularly, every week, every quarter, every year, according to your needs. It’s like brushing your teeth. You never forgo brushing your teeth even if you need to call a plumber because of a broken pipe! You always brush your teeth before going to bed. If you can do it for brushing your teeth, then you can also do it for planning and scheduling time for strategizing.
With these three steps, you can hunt like a lion and focus on those issues that are the most important for you. Are you disappointed because you would rather do every single little thing yourself? Well, then you had better read the beginning of this chapter again, with the example of the three bottles of orange juice and the two glasses.
‘What should I do?’ a leader asked last week during leadership training ‘My office has a huge glass wall. Everyone can see that I’m at my desk. I am constantly being interrupted.’
Are you creating or are you just reacting?
Where there’s a will, there’s a way! A café on the way to work. A meeting room. Scheduled appointments or set times in which you commit to doing only quiet, concentrated work. This is all down to your organization and leadership.
Several times a week, actually almost every day, I sit at my kitchen table for one task, to which I devote my full concentration. And then I sit on the train on the way to meet clients and think. My phone is in flight mode. The Wi-Fi is off. Or sometimes in the morning, still in bed, with a pen and paper. It doesn’t matter where, what matters is your attitude.
What routines enable you to regularly do your thinking, your deep work, your highly concentrated work? This is the basis for your success as a leader.
By doing this, you will immediately belong to those who answer the question ‘Do you have enough time for strategy, planning, and conception?’ with a resounding ‘Yes! I do because I hunt like a lion! I have someone else do the hunting and I focus on the essentials.’ Be proud of this new ability because most leaders cannot do this. Thus, you will have created the basis for doing your job 90-100%.
You now have a simpler, safer way to effectively set priorities. If you have not done this within the next five working days, then read this blog post again. Or listen to Episode 1 of my German podcast ‘Führen wie ein Löwe’. Perhaps you need another push in the right direction. And if you need a sure-fire tip to sharpen your discipline in terms of putting things into practice, then read the Disciplined Implementation and New Habits blog inspiration 15 on this webside.
Want to practice more successful delegating and focusing? Then I recommend my book Letting Go for Leaders, which was awarded Trainer Book of the Year.
This article is taken from my new book “Nothing can touch us! Giving your team security when nothing is secure anymore”.
Enjoy leading yourself land your team, your strategic planning time and your success!
Best regards, Markus Jotzo