Finish this sentence: Too often, the good is the enemy of the _____.
It’s exciting to be around leaders who are creative, innovative and productive. One of the downsides, though, is that these types of leaders are creative, innovative and productive. They are always generating more stuff. Not all this stuff is valuable. In fact, each additional idea/product/program generated cheapens the overall value of the batch.
Most of us have many good opportunities coming across our path each day. If we’re serving others in any kind of leadership role, we owe it to them (and to ourselves) to ruthlessly evaluate each one. How does one become great at a few things? By learning to say no to the other ten or twenty. Greatness comes from one’s ability not merely to avoid the bad, but to prune away the good to make way for the great.
Focus brings power. Focus breeds fruitfulness.
Before we add something, we must cut something else.
Before we say yes, we need to know where we will say no.
Before committing to a new project, we must ask which other project will be wrapping up or cutting entirely in order to free up time, people and money – then cut it.
Before we add another leadership development program in our institution, we must determine which one(s) will we celebrate and mothball – then stop them.
It works the same way on a personal level: Before I sit down on the couch to linger in front of the TV tonight, which book that I wanted to read will I kiss goodbye?
Before I eat that extra bagel at staff meeting, which part of my physical fitness plan will I say no to?
These ideas collide with a consumer culture in which “more” is viewed as “more.” In reality, less is more. Most successful businesses have a pruning process in which they say “no” to far more opportunities than they say “yes” to. Steve Jobs’ leadership of Apple is a great case in point. So was Jesus’ leadership style, in which he constantly said no to the larger numbers in order to focus on a few.
Much of leading well involves having the courage to say no, now. No to self. No to others. No to another 15 minutes on Facebook. No to the next bright shiny ball that promises 10,000 site views.
Personal excellence comes, in part, from a growing willingness to stop doing good things in order to free up more time, space and creative energy for the handful of ideas and behaviors that we truly want to nourish into greatness.
What do you need to stop doing today? Stop it, now.