For Business Leaders, Second Things Should Never Be First

Leadership is about first things. When a leader becomes unfocused and unclear, the organization follows suit. Here's how to right the ship.

Photo: Ken Gosnell, CEO and Servant Leader of CXP (CEO Experience); Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Ken Gosnell, CEO and Servant Leader of CXP (CEO Experience); Source: Courtesy Photo

In his book, The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker writes, “Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results. They force themselves to set priorities and stay with their priority decisions. They know that they have no choice but to do first things first – and second things not at all. The alternative is to get nothing done.”

Entrepreneurs often struggle with deciding which tasks are most important. In the life of a leader, many days the urgent becomes a priority over the planned. We can be swayed to focus attention on the urgency of our team. While it is important to be responsive to the needs of our team, as leaders we must never forget to focus on what will move us forward.


For entrepreneurs, second things often become first things

As we look to understand what takes priority in life and business, we must create a boundary to delineate top priorities versus those things that would not rate. Essentially, you must discover your second things.


1. Second things are activities that do not support the betterment of the mission

Leaders are called to push the organization forward. Your responsibility as a leader is to focus all of your energy and effort on the tasks that will make a difference for the organization.

A great leader understands the difference between being busy versus being effective. They are keenly aware of their own personal mission statement and how their personal calling and gifts should be used to enhance the performance of the organization that they have been called to lead.

Question: Do you have a personal mission statement and do you know how your personal mission impacts the organization that you lead?


2. Second things are actions that don’t elevate the values of an organization

Deliberate actions are critical to a leaders success. Far too many leaders are frantically stressed to their edge as they spend their days trying to solve the problems of others rather than focusing on how to elevate their organization’s potential.

Leaders must be adamant in setting healthy boundaries around their time and their energy. Waste no time on things that have no impact or benefit.

Question: How deliberate are your daily actions? Do you enter each day with a plan or do you spend your time putting out fires?


3. Second things appease others but serve no purpose for the greater good

Business leaders are sought after to help guide community organizations. They are flooded with requests. Good leaders are committed to helping their communities. However, smart leaders don’t commit without a larger motivating cause.

Question: How many organizations and groups have you joined that take time and energy away from your core business?


4. Second things require commitments that should not have been accepted in the first place

Forbes contributor Ashley Stahl suggests that successful people know how to say no. “In the words of Warren Buffet, ‘the difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.'”

It’s easy to become overextended and overcommitted when you have a heart that desires to help. However, the most helpful thing is to focus and commit to those things that you can excel at completing. All leaders have struggled with saying no at one point in time. However, science confirms that “no” improves productivity and mental health. Simply put, none of us can afford to always say “yes.”

Question: Do you have a difficult time with guilt and following up on commitments you should have never green-lighted in the first place?


Leadership on first

Leadership is about first things. First things are priority points that leaders can leverage to achieve breakthroughs. When a leader becomes unfocused and unclear, the organization follows suit. Examine your choices and behaviors to ensure you are not involved in the second things.


Ken Gosnell is the CEO and Servant Leader of CXP (CEO Experience). He serves leaders by helping them to have great experiences that both transform them and their organizations that enable to go further faster. He has worked with hundreds of CEOs and leadership teams to enhance strategic, operational and people accomplishments. He is an author, coach, and strategic partner with CEOs. Ken is the creator and facilitator of the Christian CEO Linkedin Group and creator of the CEO Experience Impact Assessment. He is married to Shonda, and they have four children. Connect with @ken_gosnell on Twitter.


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