We have all heard the maxim, “Less is more.” I wonder if we have applied it to our lives? Or to our styles of leadership? Or to our companies?

Capable people love to challenge themselves. They find satisfaction in throwing themselves into the wind and seeing what comes of it. They like the admiration they get in return. They also like the adrenaline rush. “Look at all the things I can do,” they seem to be saying with their lives.

They should save it for the ski slope or for sailing. They should give themselves to an extreme sport or two. Why? This approach doesn’t make for the best leaders and it doesn’t build the most successful companies.

Instead, the best leaders know how to do a few things well and avoid all the other things they do only fairly well. They know how to discipline themselves to stay focused upon what produces the highest yield. They save adrenaline rushes for their spare time.

We tend to accumulate projects and responsibilities as we move through life. We are like ships at sea becoming increasingly heavy with the barnacles that attach to us while we are in motion. Over time, though, these barnacles can keep us from our prime directive. From time to time we have to scrape them off of our hulls so that we move more speedily and forcefully toward our chosen destination.

After the Guinness brewing company became successful, they tried their hand at dozens of other business ventures. Most of these merely dissipated money and time. They did none of them well. The Guinness board eventually came to a conclusion: We needed to stay focused on our main thing: brewing beer. As I wrote in The Search for God and Guinness, “Doing one thing very well, and then linking all other pursuits to it, is what made Guinness among the greatest brands in the world.”

Now, let’s apply this to our lives. Let me ask you to sit quietly sometime soon and remember the mandates you received for the work that you do. Did projects and responsibilities merely drift into your life and make themselves at home? Or did you decide, based on objectives and calling, to take certain types of work in hand? Did you choose your work, your vision, your current projects, or did circumstances choose for you?

Now, lift your eyes from the daily and look at your long term objectives. Is there a connection with all that you do daily and what you ultimately hope to achieve? Can you draw a line between what you do now and who you hope to be in ten years? Or twenty? Or at the edge of the grave?

I believe that John Lennon was right. Life often is what happens while we’re making other plans. This might be fine for art and fun. It is disastrous for the kind of strategic leader you are hoping to be.

It’s likely time for some surgery. It is likely time to scrape off some barnacles, meaning those responsibilities and projects that have attached themselves to you without necessarily being invited.

Cut away the optional. Cut away the ill-fitting and burdensome. Get strategic. Get focused. Invest in the high yield of your gifts and of the organization you lead. I think you may soon marvel that less really can be more.

That’s it. Have a good weekend.

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