Author and former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink writes in his book Extreme Ownership
that “Even the most competent of leaders can be overwhelmed if they try to tackle multiple problems or a number of tasks simultaneously.”
The team will likely fail at each of those tasks.
Instead, if you’re feeling overwhelmed as a leader, Willink recommends that you rely on this principle: Prioritize and Execute.
Here are the 3 steps for putting this principle into practice:
- Evaluate the highest-priority problem.
- Develop and decide on a solution, seeking input from team members where possible.
- Direct the execution of that solution by focusing all efforts and resources on this one high-priority task. Move onto the next highest-priority problem. Repeat.
Willink writes that this principle works just as well in business as on the battlefield.
He tells the story of his experience coaching the CEO of a pharmaceutical company. The company had previously been a profitable player in its industry, but was experiencing a long stretch of declining revenues.
As part of a leadership training and consultation, the CEO described to Willink all the initiatives the company was working on:
- Developing several new product lines, each with its own marketing plan.
- Establishing distribution centers in a dozen new markets within the next 24 months.
- Entering the laboratory-equipment market.
- Implementing a leadership training program for the company’s managers.
- Updating the company’s website to reflect its new branding and customer experience.
- Finally, to improve sales, the CEO planned to restructure the company’s sales force and compensation plan.
But when Willink asked which of these was the highest priority, it was easy for the CEO to choose improving the sales force’s efforts: “If they aren’t getting in front of customers and selling our products, we will no longer be in business.”
The CEO took Willink’s advice, and over the next several months focused all of the company’s activities on supporting the frontline sales force: from setting up tours for customers and redesigning marketing materials, to setting weekly goals for meetings with hospitals and creating video interviews with top salespeople that others could watch and learn from.
That focus on a single initiative unified the company, increased momentum, and eventually improved revenues.
From a position of renewed financial success, the CEO could then focus on the remaining priorities.