Focus On High Leverage Activities

Andy Grove in his book High Output Management devotes a lot of space to how managers should spend their time.

He was a legend in his time and one of the founders of Intel and the whole Silicon Valley explosion. Many of the tech titans reference this book as one of the most influential they ever read.

It could be said that Andy Grove ran a tight ship. Disciplined and precise. Part of that discipline, which he role modelled daily was the idea of making sure he allocated as much time to high leverage activities as possible and there is a whole chapter to the concept. It is very pertinent during this current turbulent period in our lives. It is easy to be reactive, eager to jump on tasks in an effort to solve problems and get things done at speed. But that default of doing tasks yourself may be a trap and provide little leverage.

Leverage is defined in physical terms as the action and mechanical advantage created by a lever. With the fulcrum in the right place, a lever can lift a disproportionate weight or object. Effort, directed correctly, goes a long way.

If you apply this to your managerial activities, there are really 3 key high leverage interactions:

  1. When you impact many people: when something you say or do impacts a lot of people. That could be a whole organisation, or simply your whole team. Perhaps an inspiring message, a clear vision or a decision that changes others’ behaviour.
  2. When you impact one person to operate differently over a long period of time. Hopefully, you have experienced this yourself, where someone has given you feedback, or advice and it has changed positively the way you operated for ever. It is a gift that keeps on giving.
  3. When you can impact a large group by providing a key piece of knowledge or information. Dropping in an insight can provide the “ah ha” moment and take people in a new direction to solve a problem.

Notice that all 3 involve you as a manager impacting another person/people. That requires interaction and conversation. We must always remember that management is a contact sport and is rarely accomplished from the seat of your chair via an email.

A high leverage activity does not need to take much time. A small amount of your time can have a long-term impact on someone else. Ken Blanchard’s famous book The 5 Minute Manager, rightly promoted the art of 5-minute feedback and 5-minute coaching conversations. That is not always the case, but it often can be quick.

Conversely the poor allocation of your time creates negative leverage. People and the organisation can be diminished by bad management: meddling, undermining decisions, poorly delivered feedback. Being skilled in all the important aspects of management is essential. A good time manager on its own does not make a good manager.

The final important element to note is that good managers think consciously about how they allocate time. It requires thought and deliberate behaviour, repeated over time so it becomes an embedded habit. Once understood, it is a really simple process. A simple way of starting this embedding is to think at the start of each day what activities will be high leverage and to reflect at the end of the day how you did. I wonder how you did today.