The 24-Hour Trap
May 14, 2013
Never try to solve everything in 24 hours. When you try to attack a single problem, you really face a whole set. All too often, a rookie department head or manager tries to do it all right now, hoping to solve a myriad of problems at the same time. If you fall into this trap, your attack perimeter becomes increasingly large until finally, your logistic requirements for solving the problem exceed your conceptual capacity.
Successful management of problem sets is an acid test to differentiate the accomplished from the beginner. We see it in radio programming regularly; a scotoma or "blind spot" that clings to the tradition of seeing everything collectively. The most effective leaders I've known learn to separate problems by their importance and thin-slice the difference between the "temporarily urgent" and the "necessary."
The Pareto Rule: Never squander 80% of your efforts on 20% of the solution. Reversed, 20% of your efforts will result in 80% of your results. For example, if you're a manager tasked with two objectives -- one increasing sales, the other increasing cash flow -- always attack the profit problem first.
Decision Critical: Move faster with reversible decisions, move slower with irreversible decisions. Choosing the color scheme for a logo is reversible. Firing a department head isn't. Most decisions run the gamut, from quickly reversible to complete finality. The tempo or pace of a management team is directly proportional to the dispatch with which your staff treats reversible decisions and the speed with which irreversible decision-making is brought to a much higher level.
The Quicksand of Over-analysis: A crippling and often fatal leadership affliction shows up in remarks like "We'll need further study," or "the data's incomplete." The leader who incessantly pursues more data has somehow neglected the fact that decision-making in anything involves chance. Unnecessary haste or premature decision-making is risky business but drowning in a sea of data gives your staff the cue that you're indecisive. The only decision worse than the from-the-hip, ready-fire-aim call is the decision never made.
On your way to your leadership role, you've witnessed the classic paralysis-by-analysis syndrome on the part of some peers. Sometimes they survive with it though less and less in 2013. Sooner or later a weak manager who fosters this process will come to grips with missed chances. As a rule to live by, usually the greater the impact on your strategic objectives, the more time can be devoted to the decision-making process. Tactical decisions are 100-meter dashes; made with accurate thin-slicing; rapid team consensus brought to a straight-line action path.
Time is one of your major assets, failing to recognize it will become one of your major liabilities. At the risk of sounding absolute, there really are only two types of people in leadership -- those who know and those who don't.