The Inefficiency Of Leadership

Building Relationships, Sharing Wisdom, & Making An Impact Takes Time & Repetition

We talk a lot about efficiency and effectiveness in the business world. It goes back to the old Peter Drucker quote:

“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”

Efficiency is about the management of processes. Effectiveness is executing on the proper vision, goals, or objectives.

Of course, we cannot apply the idea of efficiency to human beings. We are irrational creatures – subject to the whims of emotion. Rather we have to adjust to this paradigm:

Inefficiency in leadership is effective.

Let’s start with the basics. Leadership is about people.

  • Helping
  • Serving
  • Inspiring
  • Motivating
  • Teaching
  • Coaching
  • Explaining
  • Encouraging
  • Drawing the best out of people

It’s a lot like parenting.

I learn many leadership lessons from parenting. The day in, day out grind of teaching kids how to become adults provides a great backdrop for practicing leadership principles. I want my 9-year-old triplets to become functional adults. My desire is for my kids to become contributors, to add value to society, and to find fulfillment.

I want my kids to grow up to be independent adults. I want them to grow into who God meant them to be. I want them to make a mark on this world. I want them to use their talents, skills, abilities, experiences, and unique perspectives to the fullest.

Teaching the lessons that get my kids there takes a lot of time and repetition.

Repetition by its very nature is incredibly inefficient.

We have to ask ourselves as leaders (of kids or work teams) this important question:

“Are we willing to trade momentary inefficiencies for permanent impact?”

It takes energy to pass on valuable information. This goes for both kids and team members. It takes even more energy to transform head knowledge into heart knowledge. Moving from theory to application can be tedious and exhausting on so many levels. Yet we understand that that is exactly why leadership is so challenging and so vital. It’s about endurance and long term perspective. The tradeoff in time and repetition is worth the end result.

When we are working with our people and our teams, we strive to get everybody on the same page. This makes sense as we need everyone pulling in the same direction to achieve team goals.

We want to be leaders who:

  • work with people
  • bring out the best in them
  • have them achieve at their highest level possible

That kind of leadership takes a certain level of comfort and understanding.

Leadership is an emotional investment

We can’t expect instantaneous results. We can’t expect to draw people out of their past because we say so or because we have a title. We can’t expect people to overcome deep-rooted pain and suffering to hit a 10% increased sales goal. We as leaders need to be sensitive to whatever past experiences are holding people back from achievement.

Emotions are inefficient.

When we work with people, we have to work within a framework that we can’t:

  • cut corners
  • cut costs
  • trim the fat
  • rush the process

When we rush the process, it turns out poorly. When we rush a relationship, it spooks people.

Let’s take it out of the context of business for a moment. If we were trying to rush a romantic relationship, that wouldn’t work either. The other person would push back against that. The resistance occurs because of moving too fast. We haven’t built enough trust in the relationship.

Leadership is much the same way.

It has to happen organically.

It has to evolve from a state of little trust at first. We might be complete strangers to our teams at the beginning. There is no connection so there is no trust. We have no idea what situation we may be stepping into. The previous leader may have created an atmosphere of distrust, cynicism, and outright hostility.

We have to move slowly in this case to establish an emotional connection.

Consistency plus credibility establishes trust

When we establish trust, we create an environment to be influential and effective leaders. This goes for teams who haven’t suffered trauma from previous leaders too.

As leaders, we have duties to perform. We have tasks that we need our team to complete. We most likely have an agenda that comes from above us. We can’t shirk that responsibility. We have to take the right approach though when trying to implement that agenda. The agenda might be for the benefit of the company and for the employees at large. However, our team members may not understand all the ins and outs of the agenda.

  • Communication
  • Patience
  • Understanding
  • Answering questions
  • Assuaging fears

These are all part of the tool kit for us as leaders. We can help our teams understand the message, how it connects to their individual work, and why they should even care. It goes back to that old quote:

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”

― Theodore Roosevelt

Trust, caring, understanding, love, and patience

These are the ideas that form the base of leadership. Then we can go about:

  • interacting with people
  • creating strong connections
  • nurturing relationships
  • forming communities
  • making an impact
  • reaching goals

We have to go through the process with our people. When we do that, we build emotional currency – the kind that we need to cover the costs of our “asks” as a leader. But the order matters. First comes relationship building, then comes inviting people along on a journey of change and growth.

We can’t Six Sigma our leadership

Standard deviations and reducing errors don’t apply to leadership. Once again, it’s about people. It’s about relationships. It’s about guiding and directing (not coercing) people. We can’t force people to do something against their will. We can’t account for every scenario. We can’t plan every reaction or response.

As leaders, we understand this core axiom:

Expect the unexpected

  • We anticipate the fallibility of humans
  • We allow for mistakes, mishaps, and misunderstanding.

Relationships don’t go up and to the right on a smooth line. That isn’t reality. People have bad days. People screw up. People lose sight of what is important. That creates inefficiencies.

Leadership is that human element.

We need to remember the humanity of the people on our teams and our own humanity too. We are creatures of emotion. We make illogical, irrational, and emotional decisions. We have to keep that in consideration.

For instance, it’s not that common for people to be able to step back from their anger in a situation and question what is causing it. That is emotional intelligence coming into play. It takes practice in the real world to get to that stage of emotional maturity.

I’ve learned to account for the human element in my leadership.

It began in my old military days. As a young leader, I believed that position was the source of authority. I wanted to enforce the standards of the Air Force. The standards were clear but I didn’t have a leg to stand on when asking people to strive for the standard. I didn’t understand the human element. I didn’t have the required relationship. I didn’t understand that:

The human element is completely inefficient.

We can beg, browbeat, cajole and demand that our teams perform to a certain level. But it won’t work very well. They need to internalize the ideas that we are trying to share with them. For that to happen, we need to have established trust and rapport. We have to show up and convey the same message over and over again in a loving way.

We have to make peace with inefficiency

The leadership journey has been wholly inefficient for me. That might trouble other people, but not me. I know I’m carving my own path. I’m doing something unique. It’s something that I’ve never done before. The way ahead is nebulous. There is a vision but it’s murky. We can be afraid of that great unknown or embrace it.

When I think about my marketing path, the same idea applies. I had no clue what to do with marketing and social media a few years ago. I had one college class on the basics of marketing but none of that stuck. Even if it did, it’s not relevant almost a decade later. I’ve learned a lot over the last three years and none of it came very efficiently. It’s the combination of thousands of hours on Twitter chats, learning on my own, and connecting with people through industry events.

I revel in it because it is such a unique and fun path.

It’s the path of leadership and inefficiency.

To operate as a leader is to be at peace with the idea of being inefficient.

Now that’s not to say that we shouldn’t leave a mark in this world.

If we were to disappear from the online space (whether it is Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn), would people FEEL it?

Would there be emptiness or a void left behind?

Would people miss us?

I feel confident in my answer because of:

  • the uniqueness of my point of view
  • my perspective
  • my experience
  • and the message I’m sharing with the world

The peace I have with inefficiency helps me to enjoy the little moments every day. I am connecting with people, growing relationships, and nurturing community.

It also helps me to keep my eye on the prize. I like to work from a very long term perspective. When I think about that, little inefficiencies over a very long period don’t amount to a lot. If we think about our legacies – what are we striving to create for the next hundred years? If we are playing the infinite game (a concept Simon Sinek has been expounding upon lately), we will see that the value of these inefficiencies becomes zero.

If we’re aiming to be effective leaders we need to be looking to the horizon.

When we have that long term perspective, the inefficiencies of leadership don’t bother us. Things that we find annoying (like repeating ourselves) become more valuable in the context of a larger mosaic. This is true as long as we continue to press forward in our journey.

It’s all inefficient. But it’s all worth it. Because that my friends is leadership.

Thanks so much for reading today!

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I’ve been helping leaders become better marketers for over 21 years and would love to help you take the next step in your spiritual leadership journey.

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