Have you found yourself running in too many directions? What do you really need to focus on in the coming year to make an impact? What changes will you make in the coming month to become more effective and enhance your life at the same time?  It may be time for a check-up.

Clarity and focus are becoming even more important if you are serious about the business future you are heading towards. Have you clarified your preferred future and shared it with other leaders? What are the most important roles and responsibilities you have to contribute? How can you identify important work that needs to be done, but can be accomplished by someone else on your team or in the organization? What work and reports were once important, but not adding value to you and your customers anymore? You’ll kill yourself and others if you keep piling new work onto things that you deemed important for years.

I often used a story and demonstration called ‘The Jar’ while coaching executives and leaders. I start with a large jar, and later introduce a variety of rocks, pebbles, stones and sand. The question asked is how we can fit the various items into the jar without it breaking. Where do we start? Some suggest stones, others sand. We try the sand first and find trouble as there is no room for the rocks. It’s only after we start with the bigger rocks, followed by the stones, pebbles and sand that we are successfully able to place all items into the jar.

The analogy of course is to start with the most important tasks in your day first, not the easy ones. To accomplish this you will need to define your future destination, and the most important roles and responsibilities to carry out as the owner or executive. Everything begins with you, and all critical work of the leader falls into one of these three responsibilities.

Critical Roles


The model we have successfully used with coaching clients comes from the Polaris Competency System (Venn Diagram), as created by Organization Systems International. It highlights that career and long-term success of any leader must take on three critical roles: strategic direction, professional/technical competence, and leadership/management effectiveness. Any leader must define and execute on all three roles during the course.

We often see the most time and natural strength falls into the leader’s professional/technical competence. No surprise here. Doing well in one’s job is often the most noticed and best reason to promote someone upthe ladder. Unfortunately, our over reliance on our professional skills is one of the largest reason executives derail or asked to move on. The reality is that the higher any leader travels up the organizational ladder, the less time they should be spending on the professional duties they relied on.

So, if we are reducing the amount of time we spend in the area we based our success on, what roles do we fill it with? The short answer is the other two roles. First and foremost is defining, communicating and interacting with others on the strategic direction needed to succeed in preferred future. Where will you be in 5 – 10 years, and what critical activity must be accomplished? However, identifying your preferred future is the easiest of your tasks here. Working with others to gain their support and commitment is where you energy must be spent. Most importantly, this is not a simple task for you as the CEO or president, but one that all of your management team must commit to and engage in.

Secondly and equally important is the role of leadership and management effectiveness. When compared to the professional and strategic roles identified earlier, this is the ‘how to’ of your success. This is where your interactions, relationship building and emotional intelligence will help you to succeed.

Leveraging Roles & Relationships

After experiencing success at prioritizing and reallocating time spent, the next opportunity for success comes by managing the intersection of leadership effectiveness to the other two roles. You see, leadership does not occur in a vacuum, but only when connected to the other roles. Observe how each of the three spheres overlap and are synergistic with each other. Think back to a leader that you admire and look up to. How and when did they excel? You’ve probably seen that they were not only exceptional in one or more of the roles, but in how they leveraged their time and abilities. The more you can accomplish this, the more successful you will become.

Questions to Ask

All of these words are simply ideas without actions. A critical first step is often asking yourself some tough questions.  As you consider your own effectiveness, success and future growth, start with these questions:

Strategic Business Direction:

  • How clearly have you identified where your company and organization will be in five years?
  • Have well have you built your management team commitment to the future vision?
  • What 3 – 5 initiatives will leaders need to rally around and commit to?


Professional & Technical Competence:

  • How much time do you spend on the professional and/or technical roles you know best?
  • Who have you identified to carry out this work as you perform more strategic work? How is that going?
  • What systems have you put in place to pull critical knowledge out of your people’s heads?


Leadership & Management Effectiveness:

  • What are your key strengths as a leader and manager?
  • What steps have you taken to surround yourself with smarter and a well-rounded management team?
  • Which 5 – 10 leadership/management skills will be required of all leaders in your organization to help achieve your strategic goals?


When we see how leaders struggle with the pace and accountability in their new role, it’s no surprise that major initiatives in the company they work in are affected as well. As you look at becoming more effective in the coming year, or in helping those around you, consider how focusing on your key roles and leveraging their shared purpose will power your success.

To a new year of success, accomplishment and lasting relationships!