How Leaders Can Break Free from Day-to-Day Trench Warfare
By Laura Patterson - President and co-founder of VisionEdge Marketing, Inc.
Tuesday, 2nd May 2023

Let’s explore some of the biggest causes that keep C-suite leaders in the trenches and some ways to climb out.

The primary role of C-suite leaders is to provide strategic direction and guidance. But if you’re like many C-suite leaders we’ve talked with, you may find yourself stuck in day-to-day trench warfare, leaving little time for strategic thinking and planning.

In conversation with colleague Kevin Paulsen about this very topic, we discussed why this happens. We agreed that it can be a result of not delegating or not being able to delegate, or there are too many operational tasks C-suite leaders believe they need to handle, or in some cases the inability to set the right priorities.

Those C-suite leaders fortunate enough to have a board of directors, with the right members can more easily break free from the day-to-day, low-level tasks. But what about those organizations that don’t have a board? Let’s explore some of the biggest causes that keep C-suite leaders in the trenches and some ways to climb out.

More and Better Delegation Delivers 5 Key Benefits

The late John Hunt, a London Business School professor is noted as saying, “only 30 percent of managers think they can delegate well, and of those, only one in three is considered a good delegator by his or her subordinates.” However, failing to delegate tasks effectively can lead to burnout and a lack of time for high-level planning and strategy development.

Consider emulating Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, who was known for his focus on delegation and his ability to empower his team members to make decisions and take ownership of their work. Firms like The Alternative Board claim delegation helps to:

  1. Boost team morale
  2. Increase productivity and business output
  3. Deliver stronger business continuity
  4. Foster internal cooperation
  5. Accelerate innovation

Each of these five benefits is vital to a company's bottom line.

Action Steps

Identify tasks that can be delegated to other members of your team and provide them with the necessary resources and support to complete these tasks effectively. By doing so, leaders can free up more time to focus on high-level strategy and planning.

Know Where to Spend Your Most Precious Asset: Time

Some C-suite leaders find themselves stuck in day-to-day trench warfare because they are challenged to prioritize their time effectively. As a leader, it is easy to be pulled in many different directions, with competing demands on your time from various stakeholders- employees, customers, partners, board members, and so on. Several years ago, Harvard Professors Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria tracked how CEOs invested their time.

Where does the time go? They found that on average CEOs worked 62.5 hours a week with the bulk of their time as follows:

  • 25 percent on people and relationships
  • 25 percent on functional business unit reviews
  • 16 percent on organization and culture
  • 21 percent on strategy. Of this time, 72% was spent in meetings with 70% of these meetings lasting one hour or longer.

Parkinson's Law, first published in The Economist in 1955, states that "work is elastic in its time." This means that if you set aside one hour to write a plan, it will take you the full hour. If you set aside 15 minutes, it will take 15 minutes. The point. Be attentive and focused on what matters most.

Carmine Gallo, the author of The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, wrote that Jobs, co-founder, and CEO of Apple, once said, "I'm as proud of what we don't do as I am of what we do." This thinking reflects Jobs' focus on prioritization and his willingness to say no to projects or initiatives that did not align with Apple's long-term goals. It is a skill to be able to determine which tasks are most important and require the most attention. And it takes discipline to proactively set priorities and communicate them to your team.

Action Steps

Create a list of priorities tied to your business outcomes and the critical tasks and deadlines for each. Then implement the agile sprint and huddle process. Sprints are at the very heart of the agile methodology. Sprints are short, time-boxed periods where the team focuses on completing a set amount of work tied to business priorities connected to the business outcomes and then preparing for it to be reviewed. It is a repetitive process comprised of planning, execution, review, and lessons learned.

We recommend teeing up two-week sprints. A key facet of the sprint process is the daily huddle. Each day all team members meet for ten minutes to form a plan of attack for the day based on that day’s priorities. We suggest that in the huddle each person answer three questions:

  1. What is the one thing they will complete today?
  2. To what priority and outcome is the task connected?
  3. What if anything, do you need to complete the task?

Find and Develop Strategic Growth Opportunities to Create the Future

In addition to delegation and prioritization, C-suite leaders can also benefit from adopting a more strategic mindset. This requires you to step out of the everyday details, operations, and 'doing'. Instead, you’ll be focusing on finding and developing unique opportunities to create value for your organization. This entails being able to identify long-term trends and anticipate changes in the market or industry.

You will need insights derived from data, which often involves conducting market, customer, and competitive research, monitoring industry trends, staying up-to-date on new technologies and innovations, and analyzing and preparing for potential scenarios that might emerge.

Action Steps

Adopt a strategic mindset to ensure you are guiding your organization in the right direction and anticipating future challenges. If you have a board of directors comprised of individuals with a diverse range of experiences and expertise, they can be instrumental in helping the C-suite break free from the day-to-day trench warfare by keeping the focus on the strategic plan.

Look to your board members to gain an outside perspective, ask tough questions, challenge assumptions, offer alternative perspectives on key initiatives, and help you stay accountable to long-term goals.

All of us can benefit from these action steps. But for the leaders of organizations, prioritizing your time effectively, delegating tasks, and adopting a strategic mindset are all vital to the success of your organization. Your board and your team need you up and out of the trenches so you can be more strategic and create a successful future.

Let’s talk about how to develop a strategic plan and anticipate future challenges by booking a meeting or emailing me directly. laurap@visionedgemarketing.com

Laura Patterson is president and co-founder of VisionEdge Marketing, Inc., a recognized leader in enabling organizations to leverage data and analytics to facilitate marketing accountability.

Laura’s newest book, Marketing Metrics in Action: Creating a Performance-Driven Marketing Organization (Racom: www.racombooks.com ), is a useful primer for improving marketing measurement and performance. Visit: www.visionedgemarketing.com

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