Let’s talk about how to be a good leader, effective leader, daily leadership and the routine of a leader: the three tasks you have to do repeatedly.

I think I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read articles about what the morning routine of a leader should be. When they wake up, how they make their bed, what they eat for breakfast or even that 5 am club thing. I confess that around 2015, at the height of my experience when I was 23 years of age, I experimented a lot with it because I really wanted to improve as a person. Who doesn’t want a shortcut?

There’s one thing I noticed from these articles: the ones that weren’t written by young people like me with their assumptions were written by people trying to sell me products and affiliate links. Which is fine, but I started to ask myself: what do the most experienced people say about the routine of a leader and how to be an effective leader?

The focus of this lesson will be to explore how to be a good leader, especially for first-time leaders, on what they should focus on learning now that they will spend more time working on in the future. That is, what are the most common things in the routine of a leader.

Getting into the topic of how to be a good leader.

I will draw a lot from a specialization program that I took, illustrating with my stories. So, don’t take me as the instructor who spent decades studying leadership, because it definitely isn’t my case. I’m still learning. 

When I was designing the course My First Leadership Role, my focus was on teaching the crucial leadership concepts that I realized leaders needed, especially when they didn’t come from business school. I did a lot of research and came up with a series of skills and tasks – seriously, the original list contained more than 50 main activities, not to mention “sub-tasks”.

Let’s dive into these concepts.

Let’s draw the big picture here:

To be able to summarize all these skills that make up how to be a good leader, I used the Pareto Principle. “Essentially, Pareto showed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. His discoveries came from the observation of his garden. After a growing season, Pareto was able to determine that 20% of the pea pods produced 80% of the peas”. Since then, it has been used in the business world to say that 80% of its revenue comes from 20% of its products. Or that 20% of your activities cause 80% of your results.

I applied this, empirically, but seeing how much the activities were repeated in these lists, and I said: what are 20% of the activities that take 80% of the routine of a leader? Very focused on teaching new leaders on how to have more confidence for their first weeks.

In a probably anecdotal article on Linkedin, the author mentions Pareto’s rule for various leadership activities, which I find very consistent with my perception. He goes on various activities leaders perform and comments on how to apply the Pareto rule.

For the author, in the decision-making process, you can gather 80% of the information to make your decision in 20% of the allocated time. For new ideas, 80% of them must come from your team and 20% from you. In communication, you should spend 80% of your time listening to your team and 20% talking to them. In people management, avoid spending 80% of your time with the 20% who are underperforming. On productivity, you must spend 80% of your time on 20% of your most important work.

The two critical tasks of the routine of a leader.

Now, going back to the University of Illinois, this specialization program on Coursera, Strategic Leadership Management. They mention that there are two critical tasks that take over the routine of a leader.

“One of the critical tasks is to make decisions. Leaders have to make decisions about where to go, and they have to make decisions about how to get there. The other critical task for leaders is to implement those decisions”. This is said in one of the lessons in the course. They also mention that the whole process of creating vision, goals and the like are decision-making processes. Therefore, leaders make decisions and implement them.

It is also mentioned that one of the greatest leverages that a leader has to make his work easier is inclusion: including others in the processes. If you make decisions and implement them, you are not a leader, you are an operator. And, yes, there may be cases where you have to do some things on your own.

“We can think about this as participation, opening up the channels of communication, asking other people to get involved in the decisions that leaders have to make. This immediately offers two kinds of benefits, there are information benefits and there are motivation benefits. Information benefits are, what I think of as, the head of effective leadership. Motivation benefits are what I think of as the heart of effective leadership.. 

Managers often overestimate their ability to make high quality decisions without the input of others. Or in some cases perhaps they fear it is their job to make these decisions without help. In other words, to ask others for assistance might be perceived as a sign of weakness. But inclusiveness provides more information and more information means better decisions”.

We will base our lesson today on these points to define what are the three tasks of a leader that occupy 80% of their routine. How about that?

This was a quick overview of the literature. Okay, let’s go to practice.

The routine of a leader is about working with people.

Here is what happens: one thing I say a lot to my followers, or colleagues, who are leaders is that you don’t have to make the decision yourself. Your responsibility is to make sure things happen. Therefore, you can delegate responsibility for making the decision to others. We will talk about delegating tasks in lesson 7.

It’s almost like it doesn’t matter the subject, if you have a group of people discussing it, it’s bound to have some differences, people asking for specifics, rules and what you want them to analyze. This plurality of opinions and views will surely bring a lot of value to your meetings and conclusions – remember: plurality is not about quantity, but quality. Cool?

The three activities that make up 80% of the routine of a leader.

Expanding on the concept of the two tasks of the leadership course I took and using the Pareto principle, there are three activities that make up the routine of a leader. 

  1. To organize information for a clear project.
  2. To instrumentalize your team so they can work.
  3. To make decisions to improve performance.

An effective leader must ensure that the information about the project, activity or goal is clear. Many parts of everyday leadership are about communicating to people what to do. We’ll talk about effective communication later.

You should also ensure that your team is prepared and qualified to work on these projects and activities. If you have a person working with you and you know that they do not have the necessary tools or knowledge, you will be seen as a relapse leader. Whenever you delegate a task, one of the crucial parts to determine if it has been delegated effectively is to collect the information whether your team member feels able to do it or not. 

Last but not least, of course, the leader makes decisions to improve the performance of the organization, the team or the people. All decisions should be focused on improving performance, even if taking a step backwards, to avoid falling into traps and the like.

Note that if we compare these three activities with the two critical tasks proposed earlier, you will see that there isn’t an implementation part. At least explicitly. You implement projects by organizing information, communicating it and helping your team to do its job. I diluted the activities to be able to address them.

We will now cover one by one.

To organize information for a clear project.

In the routine of a leader, there is an implicit need for the leader to gather, organize and distribute information from and to people. An effective leader does this with well-formulated questions, worrying about achieving the goal, not only accomplishing the task itself.

We will talk in subsequent lessons about the process of delegating tasks, but your role here, in the information gathering, is to gather all the information and organize it to pass on to your team. You have to understand a lot about your team’s agenda, what they’re doing today, and to match that with ambitions for the future.

In order to design an efficient project, you will need to understand the project schedule, requirements and bottlenecks. On a daily basis, the leader filters this information and passes it on, in the most optimized way possible, everything that his or her direct reports need to do their job. It will also be your role to capture what they already know, what they don’t know and what they need to do their job. 

To instrumentalize your team so they can work.

After understanding the bottlenecks, how does the leader manage to orchestrate the machine so that it works? A good leader spends a good part of their time helping their direct reports to carry out their tasks. Software, tools, knowledge and information about the project, among others. 

Although instrumentalization is not in itself something that happens every day, it does fit into the routine of a leader to plan and ensure execution so that action happens in the future. One of the biggest mistakes I notice in project management is underestimating bottlenecks in the execution of tasks.

Just to give a quick example: I have worked with many new product launches. Often, some adjustment needed to be made or a new tool implemented. It was absurdly common for people to think that the new tool was easy or that they will get it very fast. But when the moment came, during project implementation, we found out that we needed to contact the software support to resolve an issue we weren’t able to figure out by ourselves. And that killed any optimism that we would meet the deadlines.

To make decisions to improve performance.

Finally, to understand how to be a good leader you have to know how to set the path. If you are in your first leadership position, you are likely to have a lot of assistance from your superiors, or your leader, in making decisions. As you gain more experience and confidence, you will make more complex and difficult decisions, and that will be expected of you.

I see two very common mistakes in first-time leaders – mistakes that are on opposite sides of a spectrum. Maybe the person is afraid to make the decision to not sound authoritarian and wants to work towards a consensus or unanimity. Or the person doesn’t even listen to others because they think leadership is about making decisions on their own.

The solution, as you can guess, is mostly in the middle, but you can go either way. Everything will depend on the situation.

You will have to make decisions more unilaterally when the scenario is an emergency or volatile (although you may be able to consult other people. Or you may opt to understand and come to a consensus when it’s something that everyone’s engagement on a more personal level is critical for the process or when there is time.

How to be a good leader in everyday life.

These three processes are very well accepted when it comes to the routine of a leader. Mastering these concepts is not easy and my intention in this lesson is to outline them. We will go deeper into them in the following lessons. We’re just getting started.

In this Effective Leadership course, I’ll cover these three activities, but with a greater focus on what happens in your first two, three weeks. What happens in your first months and a much more in-depth description you find in the course My First Leadership Role.

How about that? As we say in my hometown: better than that, just twice that.

The article’s treasure:

In the end of each article, I will write a final recap for you to memorize the main takeaways.

This is what I presented in this article:

  • We saw the three activities that make up 80% of the routine, the first months, of an effective leader, based on the Pareto Principle. To learn how to be a good leader involves organizing the project information, instrumentalizing your team to execute them and making decisions to increase performance.
  • To organize information is about you gathering, organizing and distributing information to and from people.
  • To instrumentalize the team is to orchestrate the machine, helping your direct reports to perform their tasks.
  • To make decisions is part of deciding which way to go and how to go in that direction, given the questions we face in our daily lives.

In the next lesson, Stage of Team formation, we will cover the cycle that teams go through, how to understand the steps and how to speed up the process of creating a high performance team. Spoiler: it does not involve skipping any of the stages.

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Always look both ways. See you in the future.