I’m not talking in this post about intelligence, imagination, experience, past achievement, hard work, wealth, popularity or good luck. Those are all nice to have. But none of them – not even all of them – ensures that you will be effective in what you set out to do. Effectiveness is a wholly separate topic, one that doesn’t get much attention but is very important for leaders to embrace. That’s why we over-rely on all those other attributes as we strive to be more effective. When we fail or if we don’t feel endowed with those qualities, we give up.
But learning to be effective isn’t all that difficult. Like anything, it requires awareness, effort and time to form some new habits. Since this is a big topic, one that I feel is pretty important, we’ll break it down into two blog posts.
Here’s what it means to be effective. Simply put, personal effectiveness is the ability to get things done. Effectiveness is not efficiency – it’s about doing things well rather than doing things fast. Effectiveness is what raises your personal levels of performance, achievement and satisfaction. Effectiveness is a skill, not a personality trait. Therefore, it can be learned.
To be more effective, you must master certain habits and behaviors. There are 10 key habits to start with. In this post, we’ll cover the first five. To maximize your personal effectiveness, you will want to work on all 10 over time. But working on just one in the short-term will increase your effectiveness incrementally. Pick one habit that you feel comfortable working on and start there.
Be more effective by being wise in evaluating the choices you make
A decision is a judgment. It’s a choice between alternatives. Most choices are not about absolutes like right vs. wrong. Usually, there are just different courses of action to consider.
Starting with opinions instead of starting with facts gives you a chance to gauge how much emotion you are dealing with. If you ask for others’ initial feelings about a matter, you’ll liberate members of your team (family, social circle) to say what they are thinking rather than feeling that the facts you’ve outlined are a predetermined course of action.
As you listen to opinions, sort through what is relevant to the choice you must make. Filter carefully so you don’t get caught up in emotions, rhetoric, or group think. Ask questions to be sure a choice is needed – maybe two solutions could co-exist or perhaps everyone could make their own choices in this matter. Making minor adjustments is easier than making wholesale changes… so consider the simple first.
Once you have made your choice, communicate it clearly and be firm about seeing it through. Never be “wishy-washy” because that will damage your credibility. But that doesn’t mean being rigid. If new information emerges or the situation changes, it will be time for a new decision. If you do change course, acknowledge that you were fully committed to the first choice and that you were wrong. Explain what new information has caused you to shift.
Be more effective by being credible in the way you speak and act
Explain your decisions in a logical manner. Use facts, not emotions, as the basis for your decision. Even if you are making people-based decisions and must take into account the impact on people, weigh the logical implications, too. Be comfortable enough with your own decision to take and answer questions about it.
Avoid words like: maybe, sort of, I think, I wonder. Speak decisively to inspire confidence.
Don’t dilute the effectiveness of your decisions by trying to please all the people all the time. Know that you will not be able to accomplish this or handle it correctly if you are trying to appease everyone with your decision.
Don’t ignore the risks. Understand them and face them right away. Acknowledge them openly so others can see how you’ve looked at the whole situation.
Less is more – keep your messages simple and straightforward. Don’t hide information, but don’t feel like you have to go into great detail unless others ask.
Be more effective by showing foresight
Being effective and credible puts you in a position where others will seek your ideas and input. You can build on your effectiveness by becoming adept in predicting likely outcomes and troubleshooting to avoid likely problems.
Don’t ignore problems or dissension that bubbles up around you. Instead, when everything seems to be going well, have the foresight to ask about potential threats and to continually look for new and better ways to do things. Being complacent may mean that you’ll get blindsided when it’s too late to adjust.
Showing foresight doesn’t require a crystal ball. It does require staying engaged with others, asking questions and listening to their input. Value and seek others’ opinions as often as possible.
Be more effective by dealing with problems confidently
There will be problems in your life and in your workplace. Falling apart isn’t an effective way of dealing with those problems.
To deal more effectively with the problems you encounter, try this. Label your problems and deal with them in a dispassionate manner. Focus first on solutions and later, privately, on emotions. Simply taking control will make you more effective. Here are five ways you can compartmentalize problems and deal with them:
Factual Problems have an answer that is right or wrong. A little research can usually get these problems resolved very quickly. Don’t stew and brew about these. They aren’t worth the time.
Operational Problems pertain to systems, work practices, processes or technology. Problems here, especially recurring ones, can run really deep. It may take a long time to analyze this type of problem and correct each layer. Don’t tackle these big problems alone. Involve the people who are closest to the work and trust them with a fix.
Tactical Problems are the ones that may get in the way of attaining your goals. These are the nuisance problems, the little fires you put out in your day-to-day work. They steal your time and take your focus away from what really matters. The best way to handle these problems is proactively. You must anticipate these problems and solve them early on. Don’t let these problems become your excuse for procrastinating on what’s truly important.
Strategic Problems are related to the organization’s broadest goals. You put the business or family at risk if you do not provide quick, complete and adequate solutions. To avoid these problems, work on the habit above called “Show Foresight” so you troubleshoot and anticipate problems.
People Problems are the hardest to deal with because we don’t want to get involved in anything messy. In business, the majority of problems that front-line managers deal with are people-related. This includes decisions related to hiring, firing, moving, restructuring, promoting, motivating, coaching, etc. Every one of these decisions has an impact on a person and often on an entire team. Stalling on solutions to people problems causes far more problems than directly dealing with them as they arise.
Many leaders lose their followers because they do not demonstrate confidence in solving problems. The confidence comes from being able to gauge the urgency and respond appropriately and from understanding the need to stabilize a situation before diagnosing it.
Be more effective by handling your mistakes honorably
In order to be effective, you must be willing to make a mistake.
Sometimes, you have to act before you’re certain of the outcome. Some people avoid taking any action at all because they’re afraid of what will happen if they fail or make a mistake. Ultimately, they’re afraid of what people will say or think about them. It’s impossible to be effective if you simply stay in one place.
What we forget, especially in the glaring spotlight that a mistake feels like, is that everyone makes mistakes and that it’s okay to make mistakes. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn. You will grow and become more effective if you occasionally make mistakes.
When you make a mistake, what matters most is how you handle it. Don’t blame others. Don’t deny that a mistake has been made. Don’t be defensive. Be accountable for it and describe what you’ve learned and will do differently the next time. People admire this response and will respect you when you own your own mistakes.