How to be a more efficient leader: 5 tips

CXOs need to keep their leadership goals in sight throughout their management career. Here's how.

How to be a more efficient leader: 5 tips

While CXOs may start their careers off strong, sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the goals they initially promised to pursue. One of the biggest reasons goals tend to fall apart is because CXOs don't properly align their vision with those of the company's other senior leaders, according to DDI's Global Leadership Forecast.

"If you're a CXO, you usually have a fairly large-sized workforce that you're managing, and one of the most important things that you need to do is actually set the culture for the organization," said Brian Kropp, group vice president at Gartner. Maintaining that culture starts with establishing it among your executive-level peers.

SEE: Choosing a payroll service: A guide for business leaders (Tech Pro Research)

CXOs tend to fall victim to three main "hidden growth killers," according to Mark Green, author of Activators: A CEO's Guide to Clearer Thinking and Getting Things Done. These include fear, unproductive habits, and past beliefs, which can hinder workplace culture and efficiency.

"These are the things that tend to operate below your level of awareness, that cause you to put things off that you know you should do, and cause you not to be able to act on things or make optimal decisions, and all kinds of other symptoms," said Green.

Fear is a major roadblock for CXOs, causing their judgment to be clouded by outside perceptions and feelings of doubt. This fear can lead CXOs to more detrimental habits, like talking too much, for example, Green said. Rather than answering every question or filling the room with your own voice, CXOs need to let those around them contribute too, he added.

While CXOs also need to break out of adhering only to past beliefs, they also need to foster a culture of consistency, Kropp said.

"If you've talked a lot about a particular set of values, beliefs, cultural elements, whatever you may want about what you want for your business unit, if you're not standing up for your values when your values are tested, that is when it all falls apart," Kropp said.

Hidden growth killers are easy to succumb to, especially when you are at the very top. However, Green identified the following five strategies to help CXOs stay efficient and productive:

1. If/when, then statements

Green referenced a 2009 study by German researchers, who developed the "if/when, then" plan. Through the study, researchers found that stating a specific time participants needed to complete a task by, they ended up actually doing so.

A CEO, for example, who wants to complete a goal can use this knowledge and phrase the mission as, "When my monthly financials arrive, then I will allocate 90 minutes to review them that same day with my controller," said Green. "By attributing a specific time frame to the task, and assigning the word 'when' to the action, then the statement is charged with initiative, rather than saying 'If I have time, then I will review my monthly financials,'" he added.

2. Relate and repeat

To follow through with a new initiative or a change, a CXO needs to believe that change is possible, which can be difficult. CXOs should turn to someone who has accomplished that goal or a similar goal previously and gather advice from them, Green said.

"If there are people you know who are doing the thing that you know you should do, then go talk to them, and ask them, 'When you do this, or make this decision, or take this action, how do you do it? How do you actually do it?'" said Green. "Listen very specifically for how they think about it and how they do it, and then just go do it."

3. Know when to say no

As the head of a company, it's easy to feel like you need to be everything to everybody, Green said. Green cited Adam Grant's Give and Take, which found that the highest performers in an organization can be classified as givers, who give to a limit, as opposed to takers.

"As a CEO or as a leader, we often have a mental model whereby we feel like we should be a giver to everybody, because they're all in some way dependent on us," said Green. "But, you have to know where your limits are as to what you will say yes to and what you will say no to."

4. Forget perfectionism

Perfectionism is a pointless goal for a leader, said Green. The 80/20 rule--or the Pareto principle, created by economist Vilfredo Pareto--states that about 80% of effects comes from approximately 20% of causes. "Whether it's 80/20, or 75/25, or 90/10, it doesn't matter. What really matters is it's small versus big, and there's always this proportion of the 80/20 rule," said Green. "In business, particularly in entrepreneurial organizations, perfectionism is very, very costly because it slows us down dramatically."

It's counterproductive for leaders to focus on perfectionism, Green added, because "it's at a time usually where good enough is good enough."

5. Hold yourself accountable

CXOs must keep themselves accountable by doing quick, daily self-assessments, said Green. "It's very simple to do, because all you want to do is ascertain whether you feel like you did your best today to honor that intention," he added.

"If you want to amp this up even further, find an accountability partner, maybe an executive on your team, and agree that you're each going to do this, and that you have a five minute phone call once a day, where you review how you did for the previous day with your accountability partner," said Green.

Also see

Image: iStockphoto/bowdenimages