10 Things Really Effective Leaders Do

How in the world did life on Earth ever get to be so overwhelmingly complicated? If I said, “It’s never been harder to be a ______ than it is now,” you can pretty much fill in the blank with anything you want and it’ll still be a true statement.

I don’t know about you, but it certainly seems as if we have to spend more time than ever before just to keep up. What that really means is that we’re all just chasing our tails and getting nowhere, more or less.

Business life is no different. When you’re constantly fighting fires, endlessly bombarded with emails, and double-booked in meetings for 60 or 70 hours a week, it’s hard to get ahead and easy to lose perspective on what really matters.

As if that isn’t enough to push you over the edge, today’s executives and business leaders have an enormous and ever-growing pile of crap to deal with, all sorts of stuff that has very little to do with what you should be doing for a living: developing great products that delight customers and beat the competition.

Well, enough with the whining. Over 30 years as a manager, executive, and management consultant, I’ve accumulated 10 unique strategies that will help make you more effective at work, make you easier to live with, and maybe even keep you out of the shrink’s office.

Do three things. Just focus on three major priorities and use the 80-20 rule to spend most of your time on them. VC Fred Wilson says a CEO should just focus on doing three things: “Set and communicate the overall vision and strategy of the company; recruit, hire and retain the best talent; and make sure there’s always enough cash in the bank.” Come up with your own three things. It works for any level in any organization.

Quit being politically correct. It’s counterproductive. It’s exhausting. It’s draining. It makes your brain hurt. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? You get fired. Well, guess what? You’ll be in good company. I’ve been fired. Twice. Steve Jobs got fired. Get over it. Do the right thing, not the popular thing. Just don’t do anything really dumb and get sued. Not a good idea.

Forget social media. No, I’m not kidding. I don’t care what anyone says; it’s just a waste of time. Sure, you should probably be on LinkedIn for networking purposes. That is important. But Twitter’s nothing but a super-redundant news feed. It’s also how attention-seekers stalk famous people. Facebooks’ just for old friends to track you down. Besides, you’re more likely to ruin your reputation or share stuff you shouldn’t than anything else.

Milk those perks. When the head honchos of the big three Detroit automakers got in their corporate jets to beg Congress for a bailout, that didn’t go over so well. Next thing you knew, executive perks were bad. Evil. Well, some of them are, but the majority of them are not. Look, I’ve got over three million miles on American Airlines alone. When you travel that much, you should fly first or business class and stay at nice hotels, period. That’s what keeps you sane. Perks are there for a reason. Use them. Be proud of them.

Engage yourself. I know, it’s bad to have employees that aren’t engaged. Well, get this: An unengaged leader is a hundred times worse. When an airplane loses cabin pressure, you know how you’re supposed to put your oxygen mask on first, then help children with theirs? It’s the same thing in business. If you’re not motivated and enjoying what you’re doing, you’re not going to have happy, engaged employees, either.

Take time to think and innovate. Probably the biggest failure mode for corporate executives and business leaders is the status quo. The inertia of day-to-day operations. Take your team offsite and do some brainstorming, strategizing, and planning. Spend some quality time with your staff at a nice restaurant, while you’re at it. Schedule some alone time to think, feel, and get some perspective. You’ll be amazed at how much more effective, productive, and competitive you can be when you take time to innovative.

Make a change. Sure, the grass always seems greener on the other side, but sometimes it actually is greener. I was just reading about how toxic the management environment is under chairman and co-founder Charlie Ergen at Dish Network. It makes you wonder why accomplished managers and executives stick around a place like that? Some don’t but far too many do. Too many executives know how to strategize and plan for their business, but not for their own careers.

Don’t create your own problems. If I had to guess, I’d say that, on average, maybe twenty five percent of the problems executives have to deal with are of their own making. Why does it happen? Well, nobody’s perfect. We’ve all got our issues – some more than others. And a lot of them affect our organizational effectiveness and decision-making, among other things. Example: emotional, high-risk decisions based on limited data. Just one of the many popular failure modes in corporate America.

Forget work-life balance. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out. Trying to keep home and work life separate can cause more problems than it solves. I’ve always mixed the two and that strategy works for me. Sure, you’ll end up doing some work at night and on weekends, but at least you can do it with your feet up in front of the fireplace and a glass of wine in your hand. You can also take your spouse with you on international business trips and have some fun.

Take mental health days. One thing a lot of over-achievers have in common: we’re our own worst enemies. Take mental health breaks when you need to. Get out and about and go for a walk, a run, or a hike in the great outdoors. Take a few extra days at that conference to mess around, play some golf, and socialize with business associates you enjoy being with. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk it out with someone. You’re probably pushing yourself too hard and, well, a burned out executive is no good to anyone.

Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry. Contact Tobak; follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.