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Leaning the ladder against the right wall: 5 steps for becoming a more focused and productive leader

Insight Article - May 11, 2021

Performance Management

Leadership Development

Culture & Engagement

Christian Green MA
Every leader sets out to be more productive, but determining which goals, objectives and tasks should take precedence is challenging, particularly when leaders are being pulled in many different directions. According to Laurie Baedke, MHA, FACHE, FACMPE, director of healthcare leadership programs, Creighton University, getting the right things done takes a lot of focus and practice.

“If we take stock of what is around us in the world — the number of distractions, the sheer volume of work — then if you layer on any measure of stress and certainly uncertainty, it’s very natural that productivity isn’t what we hit as the target,” she said during her session at the Medical Practice Excellence: Pathways Conference in May.

This also carries over to the team(s) one leads. Leaders need to make sure that everyone pulls in the same direction. As Baedke emphasized, it’s a leader’s obligation to answer the following questions:
  • Are you fulfilling your organization’s mission?
  • Are you aligned to your defined strategic priorities?
  • Are you becoming the leader you want to be?
 
If those answers are “yes,” leaders are on the right track. Aiming their efforts can also help them shape their personal goals much like they would with a strategic plan. This starts with formulating a mission and continues with four successive steps that build upon one another. 

1. Mission

Similar to organizations, Baedke pointed out that leaders should also have a mission or individual purpose. “The more clarity that we have around why we do what we do, the more sustainably that we can traverse all of the hard work that is a part of accomplishing progress against that goal,” she stressed.

For Baedke, this starts with developing a mindset that prepares leaders for the difficulties they will face along the way. By keeping their personal mission and purpose front of mind, leaders can overcome any hardship or challenge they might face.

“One of the things that comes between us and really living, and identifying and clarifying, and then taking steps to live our purpose is a comparison trap,” Baedke noted. “It’s very, very easy and frankly very natural or understandable for us to look at other people … and admire them so much, that we almost think about hopping in their lane or climbing their ladder.”

2. Vision

Once leaders have a mission, they need to determine where they want to go. As Baedke related, “Having that vision — short, mid, long term — is important at every single stage of our career so that we don’t just continue to do the things that will completely consume us.” Leaders can start by asking:
  • Whom would I like to be?
  • What’s next?
  • What roles interest me?
  • What work would I like to do most?

3. Values

With a mission and vision established, Baedke suggested that leaders identify five or fewer core values that are important to them, such as teamwork, open-mindedness, empathy, humility and encouragement.

By focusing on a handful, leaders can determine which core values define them in their professional and personal lives. “If they are absent, they are really a deal breaker for you,” Baedke said of making certain one’s values align with the goals, objectives and tasks one is working on. “If we have clarity around our values … it helps us to have a … functional filter through which we can weigh career opportunities or requests for our time.”

Recognizing key values helps leaders establish boundaries around their time, ensuring that they are doing what’s most important to them, not necessarily what others deem important. In the end, it’s a useful device in helping leaders make effective decisions when it comes to their time and resources. “They are intimately and inextricably linked to what motivates you, what drives you and what allows you to have that sustainability to overcome adversity,” Baedke articulated about the need for leaders to identity these values.

4. Goals

In setting goals, Baedke stated that leaders should challenge themselves, but that they should also follow a set of criteria. A good way to frame them is by creating SMART goals:
  • Specific — Is the goal clearly defined?
  • Measurable — Is the goal quantifiable so that progress can be tracked?
  • Achievable — What limitations might not make the goal attainable?
  • Relevant — How will the goal be beneficial?
  • Time-bound — Does the goal have a deadline?
 
It’s been documented that challenging goals lead to better performance because they direct attention, mobilize effort, increase persistence and motivate strategy development.1 The issue is that, according to Baedke, individuals often overvalue a goal while undervaluing the level of difficulty it will take to accomplish the goal.

Being a disciplined, effective and focused leader “is invariably the result of very specific goal setting, a lot of clarity in those three umbrella or canopy categories above — mission, vision, values — … and then disciplined clarity in the goals,” said Baedke of the importance of following the SMART framework.

5. Behaviors

Setting goals is only half of the equation; if leaders don’t take action, goals never move beyond the idea stage. “Bridging that knowing/doing gap is really where the rubber meets the road,” Baedke expressed.

To ensure this happens, goals need to be quantifiable, such as breaking them down by month, week, day or even hour, so that they are actionable and measurable. “If we’re that specific, and it’s relevant and meaningful to us, and we can measure it, we will undoubtedly make progress,” Baedke maintained.

To monitor this progress, Baedke suggested zeroing in on productivity, by employing an energy audit in which leaders review their calendar to determine if they are using their time in a way that upholds their mission, vision, values and goals.

“Consider the meetings, the activities or the interactions that sustain you, fill you up … and what are the ones that deplete you or drain you, and really just entirely zap you of … the ability to bring your best,” Baedke asked. “The more clarity that we have on what we love and what we don’t allows us to more effectively navigate and strategically make ourselves more adjacent to the things that we love and that are in our strength zone.”

By gaining this clarity, leaders can set clear expectations and focus on what’s important to them. “You need all of the steps together,” Baedke said of the need to sequentially move from mission to behaviors and address the steps in between. “Executing the plan is really a process of crawl, walk, run, and hopefully fly. ... The fact of the matter is, we all start somewhere.”

Note:

  1. Locke E. A., Saari L.M., Shaw K.N. and Latham G.P. “Goal Setting and Task Performance: 1969-1980,” Psychological Bulletin, 90(1), 1981, 125-152.
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About the Author

Christian Green
Christian Green MA
MGMA Writer/Editor MGMA

cgreen@mgma.com

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