When most people hear the name “Eisenhower,” thoughts of excellence, humility, and stoicism are spurred. And while there is no doubt Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of the most effective leaders our country has ever produced, his success did not come by chance, nor was it sustained through sheer luck or happenstance. During World War II, General Eisenhower developed the “Eisenhower Principle” as a way to prioritize his daily tasks, which aided to his success as a leader.
With over two decades of leadership practice and application of the Eisenhower Principle, I’ve refined the model to a team leadership and prioritization concept, including action steps required for effective leadership application once priorities are assessed. What follows is an approach you can use to prioritize and assess tasks, along with determining the leadership actions that can lead to effectiveness.
Care to give it a shot? The first step is to build the matrix:
- Draw a large cross in the center of a blank sheet of paper so you have four quadrants
- Along the bottom left quadrant’s vertical outside axis, write the words “Not Important”
- Along the top left quadrant’s vertical outside axis, write the word, “Important”
- At the top of that same quadrant, along the top horizontal outside axis, write the word “Urgent”
- At the top of the top right quadrant’s horizontal outside axis, write the words “Not Urgent”
You have now built your matrix and are ready to proceed with assessing your priorities and determining the appropriate leader action.
“Not Important” and “Not Urgent” = DELETE
When a task is not important and not urgent, or is located in the bottom right quadrant, it does not need your attention. In the middle of this quadrant, write the word DELETE in all caps. Tasks in this quadrant are time and energy wasters. Some examples include excessive email, social media, TV, and busy work. This type of work drains and numbs leaders into ineffectiveness.
“Not Important” and “Urgent” = DELEGATE
When a task is not important and urgent, or is located in the bottom left quadrant, it should be entrusted to someone else. In the middle of this quadrant, write the word DELEGATE in all caps. These are more than likely tasks that you are capable of completing fairly quickly and effectively because of your experience. While you’re not wrong, if you follow this mentality, you will rob yourself of valuable time to focus on more important tasks while simultaneously robbing your direct reports the opportunity to grow. Additionally, over time, you may become the single point of failure in the organization because you have not developed others to do things you can easily do.
“Important” and “Urgent” = DIRECT
When a task is important and urgent, or is located in the top left quadrant, your involvement is mandatory. In the middle of this quadrant, write the word DIRECT in all caps. Tasks navigate to this quadrant when there is a crisis at hand. In other words, four alarm fires are blazing and the proverbial wheels are coming off the bus. This is the time when your team needs your “DIRECT” involvement in all matters because your experience and expertise can provide direction, guidance, and results. People are looking to you to get things under control. This is not the time to let your team flounder while you sit back and watch or possess a le se faire leadership attitude. Visualize the problem, define what needs to be done, and direct your team.
“Important” and “Not Urgent” = DO
The final top right quadrant is for tasks that are important but not urgent. Write the word DO in all caps in this quadrant. This area is where effective leaders spend most of their time. Here is where a leader plans ahead, makes time to think, and anticipates changes. Within this quadrant, a leader can see opportunities and threats from a distance. They can then set conditions with the team to mitigate the identified threats and take full advantage of the opportunities. As a leader, your goal is to always find your way back to this quadrant.
After his experience as the first Supreme Allied Commander in World War II and as he was preparing to take the office of President, Dwight D. Eisenhower developed his Eisenhower Principles to determine his daily tasks and their importance. How are you prioritizing your daily/weekly tasks? How are you investing your time, ensuring the most important tasks are getting the necessary attention? If you are unsure, the method described above can help you get started.