By Leo Hopf
One of the most important decisions you can make as a leader is how you allocate your time and attention. And yet most leaders do not explicitly make this choice. Instead, they allow the demands of the day to drive their attention. They are always busy, but they are not always busy on the topics that add the most value to their organization.
Creating A Leadership Agenda
Begin by creating a list of topics you could address in the coming months. Next, take a blank sheet of paper, and draw a line across the middle of it. Then go down your list one topic at a time, and place each topic either above or below the line on your paper. Placing a topic above the line means you are committed to spending time on it. You are doing so because you believe the topic truly matters and because you believe it is best dealt with at your level in the organization. Placing a topic below the line means the topic could be delegated, delayed, or not addressed at all. Placing it below the line does not mean it has no value. Instead, it is simply an acknowledgment that spending your time on this topic will have a lower return than spending it on a higher-value, above-the-line topic.
The value of the leadership agenda is that it provides clarity on how you should and should not spend your time. First, it produces a manageable number of above-the-line topics upon which you should focus. Second, and perhaps even more importantly, it identifies the many below-the-line topics upon which you should not spend your time and attention. Above-the-line topics get on your calendar; belowthe- line items don’t.
A leadership agenda provides a principled reason to say “no” when someone requests your time for a below-the-line topic. This puts you in control of your calendar and enables you to focus your time and attention on the small number of topics for which you can add the most value.
Using A Leadership Agenda To Align Your Organization
Once you have drafted your leadership agenda, discuss it with your boss. Do they agree with your above-the-line priorities? Are there any below-the-line topics they think should be elevated? Once your boss is satisfied with it, share it with your subordinates. This enables them to understand your priorities and lets them know why you will be saying “no” to some of their requests for your time. Then have your subordinates create their own leadership agendas. As they do so, you can discuss with them which of your below-the-line topics should be above-the-line topics for them.
Cascading leadership agendas up and down in an organization lets everyone know where and by whom each topic will be addressed. This results in the organizational alignment and focus necessary to move quickly and effectively.