Hi, I’m Ian McClean. I’m the founder of Flow Group and GreenLine Conversations. And this podcast has grown out of the chaos that’s been thrust upon us. During the podcast, I’m going to try and share with you the best of 25 years of helping corporate organizations deal and cope with change. So, as you’re out there, busy making sense of it all, trying to cope, and maybe, in some cases, trying to rebuild your organizations, I’m hoping that some of this can be of some assistance. We’ll keep it deliberately short because I know you’re busy. Let’s dive in.

First things first, I owe you an apology. I posted two months ago on LinkedIn that it was time to rest and that I wouldn’t be podcasting. Well, I said I wouldn’t be podcasting for four weeks, but four weeks, in fact, turned into eight. I did, in fact, take the time off to rest. I took four weeks away. And as always with these things, you don’t realize how much you need to until you take the time.

But it was upon my return that I became inundated with work. So, whilst I intended to return to podcasting four weeks ago, the rigour and intensity of work have got in the way. But within all of that, it has presented me with a gift, and hopefully you, it has provided the subject for this podcast, which is very simply a conundrum that we, as leaders, continually face. How do you get to do the things that you need to do but just can’t find the time?

Welcome back. The title of this episode, you’ll have noticed already, is Do The Right Things. It’s there for two reasons. The first is, it actually relates to the Spike Lee movie that was a bit of a milestone for me in my life and in my interest in movies, that simmering racial tension that took place in Brooklyn in the film of 1989, was a milestone moment for me in cinema. Equally, the title of the episode refers to Peter Drucker’s remark that management is about doing things right, but leadership fundamentally is about doing the right things. So before I get into the meat of how to do the right things and how to make doing the right things a habit that sticks, let me provide you with a little bit of context first.

So I returned, as previously mentioned, from my four-week break in September, and it was a little like people have had their finger in the COVID dam. And all of a sudden, in September, the finger came out, and we were overwhelmed by the tsunami. Interestingly, it was exactly the same situation in the financial crash in 2009, and for half of 2010, it was like a wilderness. It was bleak. There was drought. It was like tumbleweed. And all of a sudden in September of 2010, I can remember very clearly it was like somebody came and just switched the lights back on. And you were dazzled by the glare.

We are experiencing a replica moment where businesses have moved from surviving to thriving, where the focus is on bringing people back together now that restrictions have been lifted, things are easing, and the whole idea of resetting, reboarding and reconnecting are the order of the day, to the extent that because everybody is doing the same thing and simultaneously, we’re inundated. So the upshot of this, is that if I’m not careful, I’m liable to go back and return to the old habits and return to not B.A.U, but B.A.P, which is business as previous. This is a danger that we all face.

You see, this podcast is like something in a custody battle between the old world and the new world because the old world didn’t contain it. In fact, three years ago, I hired somebody as head of marketing, and one of the top items on the list was to begin a podcast. Yet for two years, in spite of the fact that we had somebody who was head of marketing who had this on their list as something that was a priority, we never managed to get around to beginning the podcast. It just never happened.

All of a sudden, in March 2020, a trapdoor opens, a COVID trap door and in some sort of bloodless totalitarian coup, I find myself in solitary confinement after a trip abroad, where I’m self-isolating and a business that has essentially just died instantly because the only artery that we had for revenue, all of a sudden face-to-face with clients, had closed up instantly. You see, the podcast represents something that was like a piece of gold that was discovered during the apparent calamity of the virus. So, in that sense, it represents one of the right things.

So, there are two questions that we’re going to explore for the rest of the episode. The first is, what are the things that you define as the right things that you need to do as a leader in order to be as effective as you need to be? And the second thing is, it’s one thing identifying what the right things are, but it’s only the first step. The second question is how do you routinize them in such a way that you make them stick and you continue to stick at them? And when I say make it stick, I mean, how do you resist the gravity force that inevitably draws you back into the urgent things that you need to do on a daily basis? Because you need to actively work to resist the gravity force.

So, let’s begin with question one. What are the right things? Here’s a very simple one minute long exercise that I suggest you pause and take the time to do. Take a sheet of paper, divide it in two, on one side, write the heading work, on the other side, write the heading personal. Underneath each heading for one minute each, write down the answer to this question. The question is as follows.

What are the things that you know that if you did, or did more often, would give you the biggest benefit or pay off in your work life, first question one minute, and in your personal life, second question one minute.

For the work question, a very common answer from leaders is that I need to spend more one-on-one time with my people. On the personal side, very popular answers include, I need to exercise more, I need to maintain my hobby that I perhaps went back to and started or re-indulged during COVID. Pause now and take the time to write out both lists. It’s going to take you two minutes.

Welcome back. There’s one thing that I can tell you about everything that you’ve got on your list. Everything that you’ve got on your list fit into the category of the right things. And they all have one characteristic in common. They’re all things that are important, but they’re not urgent.

General Eisenhower once said during the second world war, he said, I’ve got two types of problems. I’ve got the important and I’ve got the urgent. The difficulty is, the urgent is never important. And the important is never urgent. These items that you’ve written down, the gold, the right things that you need to do or prioritize as a leader, the problem with them is they’re characterized by two things. And the first thing is that there are no consequences of not doing what you’ve written down in each of those items today. So by not doing it, by neglecting it, and by ignoring it today, there are no consequences, today. However, if you continue not to pay attention to it, after days and weeks and months, the cumulative impact of ignoring or neglecting it is colossal.

Secondly, because there are no consequences today to not addressing the items that you’ve written down on your list, you need to be more proactive or just simply proactive, and you need to take the initiative in order to make every one of those things happen. So, the initiative needs to come from you. This is the direct contrast or opposite to the other side of the coin, which are the characteristics of things that are urgent.

Firstly, with things that are urgent, there are consequences today to not doing what’s on your urgent list. And secondly, you don’t need to be proactive, you actually just need to turn up and react to what’s going on around you. However long-term, sustainable and balanced effectiveness as a leader, lies in the important, not in the urgent.

Incidentally, you will find that the items you’ve written down on your list will never, ever appear on the classic traditional to-do list, which is the main act of planning for those who plan. The to-do list, by the way, is deeply flawed because it is totally reliant on your memory. And the only thing that your memory, conscious memory, will remember are the things that are urgent, the things that require attention, the things that if you don’t do them, there will be consequences.

It’s a limbic reaction to a current situation, and your brain is not set up to remember everything; it only remembers the things that are going to get you into trouble if you don’t do them, and that’s what typically goes down on your to-do list. So as an aside, by using a to do list, traditional, as a regular perennial planning system or planning method, as a lot of people do, it actually makes you a prisoner of the urgent.

I mentioned that there were two steps to doing the right things. The first step is identifying the right things. The second step is doing the right things. So how do you do it? There’s one simple answer to the question, you need to schedule time for the important right things. You’ve already identified them. Estimate how long they’re going to take and find a time in your calendar, in the future, near or far, and schedule the time. Put it into your calendar like it’s a meeting.

For me to re-engage with the podcast, in spite of the tsunami and inundation of business activity that has happened or rained down since September, I needed to schedule the time; I needed to schedule somewhere between four and five hours because our time is finite. It means that in scheduling something for four or five hours, there are two implications to this. And when you go to schedule time for something that’s important, but not urgent for you, you will run into the exact same two implications. And they are, if you schedule time for something that’s important, you have to say no to something else. So, you need to learn how to get better at saying no. And the second thing you need to do, is you need to delegate and get better at delegating.

These are two subjects that we may visit depending on demand and interest at a later date during the series.

So, in summary then, in order as a leader to do the right things, you need to, first of all, identify what the right things are for you. What is it that’s happened that you want to keep, that you want to maintain? That has been a piece of gold that you’ve discovered, and any other stories that are important but not urgent that will give you the biggest payoff. And secondly, you need to be able to find the time and schedule the time, in order to execute and do what it is you’ve identified that you need to do.

I’m going to sign off related to the topic with one of my favourite Japanese Proverbs, which goes, “Vision, without action, is a daydream, but action without vision is a nightmare.”

Finally, finally, I just want to check in with you and connected to the podcast, I just want to enquire and get some sort of sense as to what’s working for you and what isn’t. This podcast is really designed, not for me, but it’s for anybody who listens on a regular basis. And I know there are many of you out there, so it’s always valuable for me to understand what you find valuable about the content or about, the delivery or about the method. And if there’s anything that you suggest or would recommend that I do more of, or do less of this is really going to be led by those who are listening and the subscribers out there.

So get in touch. The best way is to connect on LinkedIn and we can start a dialogue from there.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay sane, and, given the title of the topic this week, stay effective.

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