Why personal effectiveness is so important to leaders

What is personal effectiveness?

When you hear the term personal effectiveness, what kind of human does it make you think of? Someone with the most marvellously organised day crammed with all the email, gym and meeting time that a human being can muster? Someone who is getting everything urgent on their to-do list done? An excellent multi-tasker or someone who is fixated on their one major objective might leap to the front of your mind. Someone perfect, perhaps. Someone almost robotic in their ability to ‘get stuff done’.

Too often, personal effectiveness is seen in exactly this way: as a stick to beat ourselves with because everyone seems to be doing more than us, faster, and with less effort. It’s time management on steroids. When we don’t squeeze action and results out of our every waking moment, we feel bad, inferior, and as though we should do more: better time management, less downtime, more efficiency, and everything that goes with it. If it makes you want to reach for a pillow for a little lie-down, you’re not the only one! I feel exhausted just writing about this. It doesn’t have to be like that. So what does good personal effectiveness actually look like?

Well, when I think about personal effectiveness, I like to see it instead as getting the best out of yourself. Personal effectiveness is, for me, utilising your energy, motivation and skill to reach the goals you set yourself in a way that is sustainable in the long term. That means it’s not about giving more than your body or mind is able to give day after day because you want to be seen as perfect. But it’s also not about constantly putting that difficult but important task off because you just don’t seem to ever find the right moment to think about it. It’s instead about marshalling your drive and your ability to achieve what you want. That’s how to be really personally effective: get everything in balance and focus on the things that really matter with the energy you have. If you’re a leader, you want to encourage this balanced approach to personal effectiveness in yourself and others. But how to do it?

1. Work out what matters

What are the things that really matter to you? What are your big goals in life? View this holistically (not just from a work perspective). Is it being on the senior leadership team, being an expert in your field, spending enough time with your family, or learning to play the guitar? Work out what it is that matters to you. Personal effectiveness is about knowing what the right things for you to focus on are, for you to achieve what matters. It’s not about being busy doing everything: remember it’s about utilising your energy, motivation and skill to achieve what is important to you.

2. Remind yourself that there is limited time

There is a limited amount of time in our days, weeks, months, years, our careers and our lives. In fact, as Oliver Burkeman (depressingly, or motivatingly) reminds us, a good life is only about 4000 weeks. It is for this reason that we should aim to achieve personal effectiveness – focusing in on what’s important to us, and channelling our skills, energies and motivation to achieve it. Anytime you drift towards feeling like you need to be busy achieving absolutely everything that life throws at you, take stock: you can’t do everything. There simply isn’t time, and you wouldn’t have the energy. If you’re spread too thin, nothing gets done. We need to ‘unshackle ourselves from time fantasies’, as Sabina Nawaz so beautifully puts it. Because time fantasies just end up disappointing ourselves and others. you need to focus on what matters.

3. Break it down into short-, medium- and long-term objectives

Once you’ve figured out what matters, you can turn this into objectives by identifying what your objectives are. These can be role-related, career-related or personal, and can be for the short-, medium- or long-term. You are likely to find that you have some which fit in each category, for example, you have objectives for your role that are short-, medium- and long-term, and you have career and personal objectives that are also short-, medium and long-term.

There may be some overlap, too, between your work objectives and your personal objectives. In fact, if your work is a good fit with your values, there is likely to be quite a big overlap. For example, you may personally want to learn to be a coach, as it will help your career prospects, but your company wants you to develop this skill, too, as they hope you will use it to coach your team to help create a high-performance culture. That would have a further personal benefit as you would like to take on a Non-Executive Director role, and the coaching skills would come in useful to help you to win such a role.

4. Help your team to do the same

As a leader, once you’ve honed your skills, you can encourage your team to do the same. There is nothing more powerful than role modelling what you expect of them, and that includes role modelling an ability to be realistic with planning your time, setting your short, medium and long-term objectives, focusing on what matters, and having a balanced approach to personal effectiveness that is less superhero but altogether more achievable and therefore satisfying.

Find out more about personal effectiveness in my next article, where I consider how prioritisation can help you to achieve what matters to you.


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