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What’s the Best Way For Leaders To Contribute More? It’s Simple…Do Less.


Yup, you read that right.

Today felt like a good time to talk about doing less.

I get the paradox in this statement. So please, hang out with me for at least a few more paragraphs to play it out.

This pandemic has not been short of great leadership zingers or memorable lines, but my SFU Venture Connection colleague Chris Stairs dropped a serious hammer on me last week. He spoke about the current and pervasive condition of “Delegation of Panic” that has gripped many leaders in the past few weeks (or at the very least shone a spotlight on it).  In the midst of the tumult and anxiety that has been staring us down recently, our less-intentioned selves will package up all the panic and false urgency that travels along with a business challenge and then dole it out…either sideways to our colleagues, down the line to our teams, or upwards to our managers. And often times, that panic shows up as, “We have to do more!” 

As Chris wisely said to me, “More leaders need to take the breath…take the beat…and then make their choices.”

So what happens during that beat? As you take that breath and take back some time for yourself, you push open the door to some simple yet focused questions that are available to you:

What really matters here?

What is making me choose this path?

What can I let go of so I can make the better choice?

That conversation with Chris was the start of a trail of breadcrumbs that led me back to Dave Stachowiak’s purposeful and high-value podcast Coaching For Leaders. One of his most recent pods was See What Really Matters with thought leader Greg McKeown, author of the transformative book Essentialism. Rarely has a read been as simple to understand and powerful in its impact than Essentialism. I felt a sense of relief when it returned to my viewfinder.

The reflection that landed while listening to the pod was this: as leaders, I’m not sure we’ve been very good Essentialists recently. We often try to do more all the time. We struggle some days at work to know what matters the most. And to top it off, we really miss that feeling of control.

All of these were 100% accurate to me. And it would be easy for me to delegate this panic to the pandemic and the state of life right now, but that would be untrue and unfair.

So, I made an important choice to get me back on track. I pulled out my copy of Essentialism and downed it over the long weekend. Other than making a new batch of Negronis (which were amazeballs), it was the best thing I could have done over these past few days.

It brought forward the clear and achievable guides that Essentialism offers and empowers:

  • Leaders should focus on their highest point of contribution – the right time, the right reason, and right thing. The Essentialist leader is unwavering about keeping this front and centre.
  • By making the decision to do less, leaders propel themselves (and those around them) forward with more purpose and reason than ever. We desperately need both those things right now from our leaders.
  • The power of “I choose to” vs. “I have to” is mind-blowing. Literally. It’s a game-changing reframe that can unleash so much positivity and focus to how you show up as a leader.
  • A great phrase for an Essentialist leader to affirm to themselves each day is, “I can do anything, but not everything.”

Just like taking that beat, timing is everything. I’m grateful for all the people that brought Essentialism back into focus for me.  It’s now my default setting. I have a much better (yet always imperfect) view of what matters right now. I renamed my To Do List into something very Essentialist…it’s now my I Choose To Do List. And with the help of some caring and empathetic people around me, I am letting go of a lot of things so that my volume isn’t parading around as my value.

If the notion of being an Essentialist is compelling for you right now, then here are three questions to take away today:

What strength would you get back by doing the things you choose to do vs. the things you have to?

Where you can you cut back your volume, but increase your value?

Who can help you clear the fog and see what really matters right now?

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