\Jack remembered back to when he was in the entry position of his company. He remembered watching the buzz when the executive team was in town. He saw the hustle and scramble of the team to roll out the red carpet. They seemed to have the life. Meetings with food brought in all day, outings at night to special events, travel to big cities. He was tired of feeling like he had all the grunt work with little perks. Jack decided his goal was to be in executive leadership. He felt confident with his MBA behind him and ready to climb the ladder.
Five years later, with a CxO title, Jack found a new perspective. As the leader not only did he still have work he didn’t really want to do, but he had more responsibilities, tough situations and pressures for the company performance. What happened? Why did it still feel like he had so much hard work?
#1) Leadership has “hard work” (This is things you do not want to do – there are no passes.)
#2) Leadership requires you to design your time so you are 80% working in your strategic strengths (not hard work) and 20% doing the “hard work”
“Hard Work” is the work that is not natural, easy or ideal to you but is needed and required to move things forward. For someone else, it might be easy but for you, it is not. This is “hard work”. I believe leaders can expect to be doing “hard work” at least 20% of the time (I sometimes call this the “toilet cleaning work”). That is about 90-180 min a day. When leaders are starting companies, working in the trenches, out of balance, not delegating, dealing with unhealthy cultures and organizations this number can rocket to be more like 80-100% of the time.
It is important to understand what is “hard work” for you. List those type of activities and put them in a “bucket” of critical activity. When leaders fail to do their “hard work” the organization suffers and the leader becomes a lid. Generally, you can make a list of what you don’t like to do, but it keeps ending up on your desk because you are really the only person who is able to do it. In these moments, this is the “hard work” that is needed to move the organization forward. When you are a leader it doesn’t mean you don’t have to do things you “don’t like or want” to do. Sometimes people think they can delegate all the “yucky” tasks they don’t like. That is unrealistic, inaccurate and actually POOR leadership.
The drive, intention, and push to do the “hard work” is often the discipline and muscle that makes a leader a leader. It is kind of like “eating the frog,” reference in Brian Tracy’s book, Eat that Frog, where it is taught that “eating the frog” in the AM during a daily “frog time” (or power hour, AM habits, etc.) will result in you doing the “hard work” needed for your team and organization to do their work and move things forward. Consider the hard work you avoid. Consider when you are a bottleneck or a lid. How are these related? Clearly, if you are doing 80-100% of hard work there is other sorting to be done, but try to filter down to understand what is YOUR 20% hard work that you need to do and DO IT. It will make a tremendous difference in your efforts and impact.
Next, keep working to develop the 80% “great work.” Every leader is ideally functioning in their “sweet spot” where work doesn’t feel like work. It is easy, fun, exciting, energizing and fun. This is working to your strengths. I believe leaders should aspire to be in this mode 80% of the time. From the Gallup Organization, we know it is rare that people are working in their strengths 80% of the time. It is possible but requires effort to design and develop this. What are your strengths? Take your Gallop Strengths Finder 2.0 and the Standout Assessment to understand how you can work in those zones more. When you are working in these zones, it is still “work” but it doesn’t feel like it. It is work in the name of your mission and purpose, it has reward and significance to it. It allows you to use your unique gifts and talents to accomplish goals and objectives that feel important and meaningful to you.
Every leader has “responsibility” of tasks and things they need to do that fall outside their wheelhouse and sweet spot. It is inevitable there are things you will NEED to do as a leader that really are “not your deal” – they are uncomfortable, challenging and require you to DIG DEEP and push through them. Here are a few examples to help you identify your two zones. The first step is to understand your strengths (80%) and what activities support or use those skills, the next is to understand your weaknesses and challenges (20%) and what activities require that effort. Then, look at your day and start to design your day to match the 80/20.
Examples of different leaders
Strengths: strategic thinking, planning, organizing vs. DIG DEEP 20% Challenge: details, numbers, budgets, habits, routines and things that feel monotonous
Strengths: details, analyzing, intellectual development vs. DIG DEEP 20% Challenge: meeting with people, planning, setting appointments, phone calls,
Strengths: exploring new opportunities, creating and innovating vs. DIG DEEP 20% Challenge: communicating with your team, taking time to write your vision and syncing with leaders to bring them along – human conversations
What is your 80%, what is your 20%?