The Five Tasks: What Every Senior Leader Needs to Do!

Sep 01, 2020

“Keep the main thing the main thing.”

“Major on the majors and minor on the minors.”

And my personal favorite: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” I have always loved that Peter Drucker quote.

All of these quotes call out our ability to lose our way in knowing where to direct our best efforts, money, and time on any given day. And it happens to the best of us. We can wake up and find ourselves doing things that are not on our list or that are far from the essential strategic list we should be focused on.

I spend most of my time advising CEOs, business owners, and entrepreneurs around areas of strategy, leadership, and faith. After more than three decades of examining what senior leaders do when they are most effective, here’s where I’ve landed: there are five vital tasks for every senior leader. Just five. Every senior leader must set direction, set speed, set risk, set resources, and set culture.

I am thrilled to announce the release of my latest book The Five Tasks: What Every Senior Leader Needs to Do!

The Must Do’s

The more senior (higher up in the organization, not older) you are in an organization the more strategic your job is. I know that sounds simple and obvious. But I am repeatedly stunned at how many senior leaders are busy doing stuff others could and should be doing on a daily basis. Your job as a senior leader? Five Tasks:

Set Direction – “We’re going there … not there.”

Set Speed – “We need to go this fast or this slow and can live with the consequences thereof.”

Set Risk – “We will bet part of the farm or we will bet all of the farm or I will bet your farm … to get there.”

Set Resources – “We need these people doing these functions against these economics to be successful.”

Set Culture – “We will work and operate in this manner.

These five tasks are universal and essential and should account for at least 80 percent of a senior leaders’ internal time and energy. Neglect any of those five and you and the company will suffer. Nail them and your leadership and organization will thrive.

What does it mean to “set”?

Leadership is usually a proactive endeavor, which means it is something we do with intentionality and purpose. That is what I mean when I use the term “set.” But to be clear, different leaders “set” these five tasks differently.

How you set them depends on two things: Your personality/style of leading and the culture of the organizations. The “setting” can happen from the top down, the bottom up, or in some hybrid fashion. But it’s your responsibility to make sure they are all clearly and firmly positioned. You can direct and command. You can collaborate and delegate. You just can’t ignore and abdicate. “Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought,” said Henri Bergson.

Who is a senior leader?

A senior leader is anyone and everyone driving the strategic elements of any enterprise. It can be the CEO, the founder, or the senior pastor. But it can also be anyone leading a division, category, or function within a company or organization. The company or organization can be small or massive. It doesn’t matter.

If you are a senior leader, get a copy of this book and give the framework a run. If you know a senior leader you’re trying to influence, give them a copy of the book. I have used this framework for decades and I have seen the results. No, there are no silver bullets. Anyone who knows me even a bit knows I deeply believe that. But some frameworks and playbooks can translate across innumerable  context. This is one of them.

Maybe this is what leadership guru Warren Bennis had in mind when he first coined that legacy statement: “Managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing(s).”

Give your leadership and your organization a clarity shot in the arm.

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