Are you spending enough time in the top right hand box?

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix is one of those simple-yet-effective leadership tools that crops up in leadership skills circles all the time, although sometimes under a different name. The idea was derived from an Eisenhower quote, ‘What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.’ As leaders, we can often end up dealing with the top left-hand corner of the matrix – things that are both important and urgent. Crises, deadlines or problems demand our team’s immediate attention and send stress levels soaring.

But always reacting can become a pattern.

Fighting fires in the top left-hand box isn’t the way to get fewer fires; the way to do that is to spend more time in the top right-hand box with tasks that are important, but not urgent. Why? Because it is these tasks – discussing progress, considering new strategies and, of course, planning – which will have the most influence on whether we end up in crisis again. If we consider Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the first three habits all take place in that top right-hand box.

1 – Be proactive

2 – Begin with the end in mind

3 – First things first.

None of these rules are reactive. They are all about making sure you do the important things and lay your foundations.

It could be said that spending all your time in the top left hand box means that you are spending all your time in management activities. Whereas the important stuff to do with strategic leadership sits in the top right hand box.

Not everyone is comfortable up in the planning box, though.

Good leaders know that different team members are motivated in different ways. You’ll have someone on your team who only wants to plan but really struggles to react to rapidly changing circumstances. There will be others who can only work at their best when deadlines loom and crises are imminent. However, as their leader, it does not matter what your personal preference is, it is vitally important that you spend time in your top right corner. Nurturing your relationships with team members will help you to know who you can give which tasks to, making sure that the natural planners are working to their strengths, whereas more reactive members have more time and space to fight fires.

If you’re starting to feel like your team is always reacting, and if it’s a never-ending story of close deadlines, crises or unexpected events, then try spending some more time in that top right-hand corner – that is where the real magic happens.