I have just completed reading a book by John C. Maxwell, titled the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, which was kindly given to me by Everton Bryan from IAS, who was recently recognized as the CEO of the year for Action Coach International. The book is about the characteristics that good leaders possess, and is something that we all know but what it does is lay it out in a very structured way. And I would certainly recommend it to anyone who wants to work on developing their leadership ability.
One of the laws (principles) that I thought is very important for us to understand as a country, and could be extended to the region, as we seek to develop our economy with limited resources (financial and HR) is the law of priorities.
What this law says is that leaders must understand that activity is not necessarily accomplishment. In other words, as I wrote in my last book, working efficiently is much more important than working hard. It is not as important how much you do as it is what you do in a day at work.
Many of us will know people who are always busy and always working late. But at the end of the day it seems like they always have a lot of work piled on their desks with little accomplishment. When I say accomplishment I don’t mean just doing various tasks but doing something that adds value to the organization or people around them. So just working hard and not seeing any “value added” at the end of it means that the organization will stand still as you are doing the same thing everyday and hence you will get the same result, which most times means not creating a competitive edge.
What it means therefore is that when we are faced with a lot of work and limited resources then in order to accomplish any value added what we must do is observe the law of priorities, or put another way focus on what will add value, given the resource constraint.
So using the example of people exercising to get fit, or just have a healthy lifestyle, many persons do not organize their exercise so that it is as efficient as possible. So they spend two hours each day walking or running leisurely and can’t understand why they can’t get results. While if they spent 20 minutes on much more intense exercise, which would not allow them to talk, then they would get far better results. Or in an organization some people always cry out for more resources to get things done, while the more organized person first recognizes the limitation of the resources and prioritizes within that limitation. Guess who ends up getting the results.
I think this lack of prioritizing is also one of the root causes of the challenges we face in Jamaica, and one could maybe extend it to the region. Too many times, especially at the political level over the years, we want to be all things to all people and end up being nothing to all people. In other words in our quest to please everyone we end up making everyone worse off. This of course is because we do not apply the law of priorities to our actions.
So everyone recognizes that the country has a fiscal challenge, a high debt-GDP ratio, and spend more than we earn, among many other challenges. And we recognize that we cannot try to do everything we would like to do because of limited resources. In fact one of the things that is clear is that the maybe the most fundamental reason why the country has not developed is that we have promoted labour and capital unproductivity, through government policies and fiscal welfare, which we have funded with debt in the past.
We also recognize that in order to change this paradigm that we have to change this culture of low productivity, and place capital, which includes the limited fiscal resources, in the places that returns the highest value. In other words we must make a list of what the actions that will bring greatest value and help us to achieve the goal of economic and social development. Put another way if we continue to try to stretch our meagre resources and support spending that discourages productivity then we will be “Back at One” as Brian McKnight sings.
So what we must do is adopt the law of priorities, as well as the law of sacrifice, in our quest for real economic and social development. So we can’t continue to use our meagre resources to promote practices that discourage productivity, which simply means we can’t use fiscal expenditure to support persons who do not intend to become productive or competitive. Otherwise called handouts. It also means that we need to prioritize what our reform areas should be. That is those that will have the greatest impact on the agenda going forward. This is what the documented economic programme schedule is supposed to do and it means that we must ensure that we do not “waiver” from it.
This need to prioritize the right actions also means that when we are setting policy, that we must also ensure that the policies are done with the longer term objective of sustainable development, rather than short term gains to meet a target only.
This is the same thing that businesses must do everyday. They would like to have unlimited resources to do everything they want to do but must consider the capital, projected business, the limitation of the human resources, market conditions etc. and then prioritize the strategies and match them with the available resources. You then do what will bring the greatest long term value to the business.
It seems to me that this is something that we need to understand as a country. As we get nearer to the “political silly season”, a.k.a. elections, let us apply this law of priorities and not get sidetracked with unrealistically trying to be all things to all people, and end up pleasing no one.
This is the challenge that we face as we continue to manage our meagre resources, and while it is possible to achieve the elusive development we have always wanted, even with our much more limited resources. It can only happen with the application of the laws of priorities and sacrifice. The reward for this will be prosperity for all.