Leadership is Inefficient – and That’s OK

We were in the executive meeting with a half day before us about to dig into a big left/right decision for the company. Lots of prep had gotten us to this point; coffee ready, whiteboard ready, deck ready. It turns out after about 10 minutes of conversation we were all on the same page. We chose left and then stared at each other stunned. Should it be that easy? Did we just make a massive decision in no time? Everyone got back a big chunk of their day, and we all left to get back to work. It felt weird.

We have been working on a book about wisdom and leadership (which will be out in September! – more to come). The book writing has been done since November. The final phases and launch plan of the book have been a grind as we learn the publishing process with a goal producing the highest quality experience. We could have gotten the book out in March. It wasn’t going to be the best version. Through many iterations, titles, and cover illustrations, we finally have a product that rises to the level of our expectations. In ten years, waiting six months to get the book out wouldn’t be a big deal, so why should it be now?

The first story was extremely efficient. The second was not. Both were right. In this day and age of life and growth hacking, apps for everything, scorecards, spreadsheets, weekly meetings, monthly meetings, 1:1s …

Leadership is still wildly inefficient. And that’s the way it should be.

People, relationships, growth, ideas all have different needs and incubation times. I’m constantly reminded of that. I’m also reminded that most of the time, 30 days won’t change the world and most leaders go too fast versus too slow.

Leadership and business are inefficient … and that’s OK. Should you strive to be more efficient in our operations, communications, and time management? You bet. Should you strive to manage all your people and projects as efficiently as possible? No way.

Here are 3 concepts to help you lean into impactful inefficiency.

People over process

A client had a boss early in his career that mentored him by going to breakfast once a week where they just talked. He still can’t believe this guy did that. From a leadership and time perspective, it’s wildly inefficient – yet the impact has stayed with him for years and fundamentally changed how he sees relationships in business.

Processes can be efficient. People are not. Know the difference between people challenges and process challenges. Going to breakfast once a week and not talking about work is wildly inefficient and yet builds a business relationship.

Where can you be wildly inefficient and impactful with your people?

When in doubt, slow down

Would your team consider you a “too fast” leader (that’s me)? I like speed, and everything should be done yesterday. At times, this speed can sacrifice quality, and if I’m not aware, grind my team down.

We are not patient for anything anymore. I’m not throwing stones. I’m that way too. Rarely is there a time where 30 days is make or break it on any decision. Yes, the world is “moving faster than it ever has before” (the quotes are for every single marketing video in existence right now). On big decisions and people, time is your friend.

The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty. (what do you know,  a Proverb!)

Big things need time (until they don’t)

Bamboo trees spend the first 3-4 years in the ground growing a root system that can sustain a skinny yet tall tree.  Then it sprouts up to the final height in 60 days. People can be like that. Ideas can be like that. Projects can be like that. Waiting for people, ideas, and projects to take root and then stepping on the gas at the right time is what you get paid the big bucks to do.

What people, ideas, and projects do you need to give time to take root? Slow down anywhere?

Is there anything or anyone that is in the 60 days of growth? Step on the gas somewhere?

In leadership, it’s all about people, slow down, unless it’s time to hit the gas, then go fast. Why? Because it’s wildly inefficient!

Dan Cooper
Post by Dan Cooper
May 16, 2019
Dan Cooper co-founded ej4, a video-based online training company, in 2003, and was its CEO until selling in 2012. During his time with ej4, he grew the company from a startup to a nationally-recognized firm, serving clients including Pepsi-Cola, Dr. Pepper Snapple, Honeywell, Monsanto and Syngenta. Channel partners included SAP and Oracle. As of the 2012, ej4 was serving 1,000+ customers, delivering millions of program views, was highly profitable and debt-free. Today, he is the CEO of Acumen, a mastermind community platform built for CEOs and Owners of strong and growing companies. He and his wife, Ali, have three children and attend Cure of Ars church in Leawood, KS. Dan enjoys running, all things soccer — coaching, playing and watching —and burning all types of meat on the backyard barbecue grill.