Leadership: Effective or Efficient?

Effectiveness has always been a driver of leadership and business success, particularly since Peter Drucker formulated the rules and required “habits of thought” in 1967’s The Effective Executive.

This book had an enormous impact on business leaders with Drucker identifying that doing the right thing was the key to effectiveness. He clarified the why of effectiveness in a way no one before him had. However, he left the how for leaders to define on their own.

I’ve been a disciple of Drucker for many years, but I’ve also learned that great men and women of his pedigree are not immune to further dissection and study. Why? Because the environment around us is evolving on a continuum. It doesn’t mean that the principles he and others like him set forth aren’t relevant anymore by any stretch. What it does mean is that the context of those principles is evolving, as well.

So, what is the trouble with effectiveness?

On its own, effectiveness sets no time limits. In an era when business could afford to take it’s time because of limitations with distance and technology, projects could take many months. For example, something that should have taken four months could take much longer. That kind of urgency won’t cut it anymore. There are companies developing groundbreaking technologies with no sense of urgency, only to have their competitors beat them to market.

As I’ve been saying for a very long time, long-term strategies, even those of a year or less, have proven to be less supportive of survival than adaptability planning, which is being able to pivot in the moment based upon what’s happening in the environment, both internally and externally. The marketplace just moves too fast.

I’ve written and talked before about the four influences that shape an individual’s values on a continuum. It’s the same for organizations, as the mandate for flexibility and agility has been brought on by recent economic shocks, such as the financial collapse of the country in 2008, and the terrorist attack on the US in 2011.

So, what is the trouble with efficiency?

If you’re able to objectively see the flip side of anything, you can also entertain my response to this question, which is that efficiency unrestrained by effectiveness can prove debilitating.

As recently as 2013, a demolition crew in Fort Worth, Texas, did an excellent and very effective job of demolishing a house. The only problem was that it was the wrong house. The code enforcer had put the wrong address on their forms, and no one was home to inform the crew otherwise. In short, they did the right thing wrong. What’s even more ironic is that the very next day, they did the same thing at a different location. Why? Because they didn’t recheck the rest of their demolition orders.

So, what does all this have to do with leadership?

We have to stop talking about leadership exclusively in terms of effectiveness (profitability) and start talking about efficiency (sustainability), as well. Just doing the right things isn’t enough anymore, nor is just doing things right. In short, leaders have to focus not only on doing the right things but doing the right things right.

This tsunami of change in our environment isn’t going to abate. Leaders of today have to be willing to embrace new habits that combine effectiveness with efficiency.

Truth Be Told, the people and organizations depending upon them for a higher standard of leadership really won’t settle for anything less.