Heroes of Old: #1 Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower

As part of my Summer Rethinking Productivity Theme I am focusing on 3 heroes of old that you wouldn’t normally associate with Productivity. I want to shake things up and help you to see that we don’t just have to listen to Seth Godin and Simon Sinek, the oldies are often the best…and wisest of them all…

This week Dwight D. Eisenhower the 34th president of the United States is in the spot-light. The classically trained project managers among you may recall his coined methodology ‘The Eisenhower Matrix’, a simple and effective tool for prioritising tasks, but before I go on to this, it’s his overall leadership qualities that I wanted to focus on first.

Eisenhower was a great communicator: He led people by clearly communicating what they needed to do and why they needed to do it, whilst trusting them 100% with the ability to know how to do it. Delegating is the underpinning principle of his productivity matrix: Can you delegate well? Can you trust people to do your work for you?

This can be a sticking point for some, perhaps because we are thinking about delegation in the wrong way – rather than thinking “It will be quicker and better if I do this task myself” try thinking “If I trust this person to do this task, they will be empowered and are more likely to believe in our shared mission”. This can be a liberating decision for both you and the person you are delegating to, even if they don’t always get it right, you are able to share the ‘why’ of your business with someone else offering a long term strategy for more productive working.

Eisenhower put it like this: “Character in many ways is everything in leadership. It is made up of many things, but I would say character is really integrity. When you delegate something to a subordinate, for example, it is absolutely your responsibility, and he must understand this. You as a leader must take complete responsibility for what the subordinate does. I once said, as a sort of wisecrack, that leadership consists of nothing but taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong and giving your subordinates credit for everything that goes well.”

In summary here are Eisenhower’s best tips on delegating:

  1. Communicate the what and the why of the task very clearly and in a way that everyone in the team can understand
  2. Leave the how to them
  3. Pick up the pieces when things go wrong and never blame them for mistakes
  4. Get excited with them when things go right

So this leads us to his all-famous matrix.

Eisenhower Matrix

You can split all of your tasks into 4 quadrants. The first is the most urgent and important; these are the tasks you do first. The second quadrant is the important but less urgent, here’s where you diarise chunks of time to ensure these things don’t slip off the list. The last two quadrants are for the less important things, the urgent ones need to be delegated, as discussed above, and the less urgent just need to be avoided altogether. Here’s a little video which helps to summarise this too.

I hope you have found this interesting, please comment below if you struggle with delegating yourself or have found some other useful tips to help you delegate.

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