Stretched Thin

Updated: Oct 4, 2019





Hello, my friends. This week the leadership thoughts stem from interactions with many leaders (and plenty of you) who are feeling stretched or fragmented. It could be manifesting itself in feelings of being overwhelmed. I get it, we all deal with these situations and that feeling of being in too deep or not having enough time to accomplish what is needed. I learned a long time ago that a person in the midst of drowning cannot work on improving his swimming strokes. 


Which brings us to Friday, and you are getting ready to close the week. Take three deep

breaths, then build out the priorities for the day, realize the team needs you, and then get after the day (this actually works regardless of the day of the week).  

This week I was reading an interview with the great thinker Jim Collins (many of you have read his books How the Mighty Fall, Good to Great, or others). In the interview I read, he spoke of leader challenges and provided some key takeaways with respect to being overwhelmed. I have extracted some of those key points and placed them here for your consideration:


1. Collins’ first tip is never work on more than ten things:

  • Create a list of every goal or task.

  • Prioritize this list down to the ten most important. 

  • Submit your priorities to your boss and acquire buy in/alignment (very senior leaders will ensure these priorities align with the strategic objectives). 

  • Once you have your top ten, put the rest of the list into a drawer and forget about it.

  • Add new goals to your list as they come up, but never work on them unless they are important enough to supplant one of your top ten.

  • When a goal is accomplished, go back to your list and move the most important to your top ten.

  • But, no matter what, never work on more than ten things at a time (Collins was more gifted than most, I would make this list about 7 things). 

2. Let fires burn is Collins’ second tip. Lack of focus is the single biggest reason for failure.

Confronted by multiple fires we tend to spread ourselves so thin that we never succeed in

putting any of them completely out. Successful people triage their precious time by

concentrating on critical tasks while stoically ignoring the rest. In short, you must learn to say

“no” to be successful.


3. The next tip is move quickly (if you have interacted with me, you know this is also stated as

one of our shared imperatives of “don’t waste time”).


4. Waiting too long to make things happen can permanently undermine the trust you need to be effective. 


5. The final tip from Collins is don’t procrastinate firing someone. No one likes to terminate

another human being and Collins was no exception. However, he believed that we usually know when a person is “just not working out” much sooner than we are willing to admit. Prolonging the agony is not fair to the non-performing individual or the team. Collins’ rule of thumb is intervene twice - if two attempts at coaching fail to produce results, then let the person go. According to Collins, while termination may elicit anger initially, in the long run it usually produces relief and a happier human being working somewhere else.


Take stock in all that is going right today, focus on what you can directly affect, and remember to force multiply with effective delegation. Make it a point to compliment someone on his efforts and positive effects for the greater good - the lift you produce for him will also lift you. 


Calm, intelligent, mature leadership produces the most results. Your time is valuable, apply it to what needs attention, and don’t forget, sometimes that’s you!

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