Lifting Lethargic Leaders

You can imagine I get to hear from many executives and leaders about their challenges and issues. Specifically, whenever someone shares a challenge that’s not obvious, I try to make a mental note and reach out after a few months. I love “closing the loop” and hearing how things were resolved in the real world. The astonishing truth is that the majority can go quarters without making progress in treating the root causes of their issues.

“Sense of *yawn* urgency? Sure!”

The most discouraging part is how many are oblivious to their inherent lack of urgency. It’s as if by simply lamenting issues and venting for a bit, they feel like they did something. They then return to their regular day-to-day lives and forget about the issues for a while once more. Sounds ridiculous? Check yourself: What’s your action-to-rant ratio?

There are people with an almost pathological propensity to whine and complain. They don’t make for great leaders. However, there’s still hope for those of you “in the middle.”

Increasing Your Influence

If you want to be able to move things forward, you have to learn how to use your team. Many of these “lethargic leaders” aren’t lethargic in total—they get a lot of work done daily. However, they focus almost exclusively on the shorter-term goals and don’t tackle longer-term issues. One reason for that is that they’re spreading themselves too thin.

You might be great at tackling the 1-2 top priority issues on your plate, but when you’re the only one you can trust, there’s only so much you can focus on, and naturally, the urgent near-term fires will take up most of your time. Thus, you have to create an organization with a solid backbone of leaders you can rely on, as well as the process for delegating projects and keeping track of them. This turns into your operating system, as I detailed in The Tech Executive Operating System.

Acceleration Over Velocity

Similarly, if you want to tackle the bigger issues successfully, you need to learn to prioritize the work that enables the work. It’s ok for team leaders to focus on improving the team’s velocity, but your role, my friend, is different. You’re charged with helping them increase velocity faster—that’s acceleration.

So, to help yourself focus on the right things, aim to do things with a greater payoff. Don’t solve a specific issue. Try to find the root cause to solve it once and for all. Delegate projects to others even if they’re only “at 80%” of your wanted expertise. It’s better to coach them along than to do it all constantly. That way, you’re not just busy moving obstacles on the road but can put your head up and come up with a better path altogether.

The Courage to Rock the Boat

Lastly, after discussing the relentless need to do higher-yield work, you must also embrace your executive role. You cannot keep kicking the can down the road—you’re the last person on that road. Sometimes, the reason for lethargy is that the issue at hand really… sucks. Perhaps you realize that a different structure is needed and some people would not be pleased. Maybe it’s time to part ways with someone who’s been with you for years but is no longer cutting it.

Many leaders have the right instincts, at least when it comes to “smelling” the issues and knowing that a deeper solution is needed. You’ve read articles, listened to podcasts, etc. You have “knowledge” to help you tell that something needs changing. However, when that knowledge isn’t translated into real-world action, it’s just like a hobbyist reading stuff for fun. If you need help acting, get help. But stop sitting on your hands.