Leadership Priorities and Focusing on What Matters Most in Life

Michelle Hunter by Michelle Hunter

What losing my father taught me about my priorities and how to live my life effectively as a leader.

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Sometimes priorities shift in a moment, leaving us breathless and unsure of our next steps. 

Life altered suddenly for me early on a Sunday morning as my husband woke me with the news of my father’s passing only moments before… and I was left in a type of mental fog that’s difficult to explain. In a few moments, I shifted from competent leader and business owner to heartbroken little girl as my mind struggled to understand the loss. 

My father was an incredibly tall man, both in stature and in the way he served his family and friends. He put his relationships with other people ahead of his own success, and his life was filled with moments of generosity and care for others. People I know continually spoke of the positive mark he’d made on their lives as we moved through the common rituals of saying goodbye. 

I will miss him for the rest of my life, but this article isn’t a tribute to him. It’s an acknowledgment of the leadership lessons I learned while grieving his loss – and encouragement for us all to cherish what is most important. 

Prioritize relationships over productivity.

My father cherished the relationships in his life and made people a priority. While I wish this were true in my own life, I’ve realized I often place a higher value on productivity when deciding how to spend my time. 

I protect my work time and plan aggressively to achieve my goals. This drive is a key component of my personality and it’s a foundational part of my success as a small business owner. There’s nothing wrong with productivity, but it functions best when balanced by other priorities. 

Choosing priorities based on relationship means taking time to listen to the people around me and respond with compassion and grace. It means allocating time in my schedule for family and friends, and not allowing my work to spill into evenings and weekends. It also means intentionally getting to know the people I work with on a more personal level than what is required for the everyday operations of my business. 

Prioritizing relationships means putting aside my task list to connect with and serve others.

Margin is essential in business… and in life.

My days are full, and I’m often overbooked. The problem might be FOMO or simply a type-A personality… I’m not sure which. But I do know that I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to my schedule. My assistant struggles to keep me from overwhelming myself with all the things I try to cram into a single week.

Margin is a concept I understand but seldom practiced, until now. 

When Dad died, I stepped away from my work for a full week. I didn’t have a choice in the matter… my brain was wrapped in a mental fog and nothing else was possible. My team cleared my calendar, notified my clients, and covered for me as I focused on survival and saying goodbye. I wish I could say this was a smooth experience for us, but it wasn’t. 

As I reflect, I realize I never fully prepared my team to thrive without me. I simply planned on a continual “best-case scenario” for all of us and moved forward expecting only the best. This leadership failure on my part is glaring to me now… and something I’m determined to change.

The first step for me is actually living according to my ideal week. This concept (taught by Michael Hyatt and others) involves setting work and non-work times in alignment with my personal priorities and then using this plan as a decision-making tool. 

For example, my ideal week blocks Saturday and Sunday as non-work times. However, I frequently work 4-6 hours on Saturday in order to catch up on the tasks I didn’t complete during the week. Living according to my ideal week requires me to hold the weekend as margin and decline commitments in my work week that exceed my capacity.

The next step for me involves my production calendar and delegation processes. Rather than booking myself at 100% capacity (or 110% if I’m truly honest) and pushing to get everything done, I need to embrace leaving 10-15% of my productive time open to allow needed flexibility and margin.

In my personal life, margin equates to self-care. Taking time to walk in the woods or sit quietly with a book. Prioritizing rest and activities that recharge me and nurture my spiritual life rather than shoving these things into stolen and occasional moments. 

Empower people around me with trust and agency.

Driven people like me have difficulty asking for help. We also struggle to just let go of things and give people the freedom to complete tasks in their own way and with their own flair.  I have what my daughter refers to as “delegation issues” and I’m determined to correct them. 

I believe people were created to live in community, and yet asking for help is really hard for me. In the days after my father’s death, I tried to single-handedly accomplish everything that needed to be done to plan for his funeral and prepare to celebrate his life. I quickly failed and had to ask for and accept the help of others. You know what? Everything worked out beautifully.

The leadership lesson for me is one of intentional empowerment. When I build trusting relationships with my team and give them agency over an increasing list of responsibilities, we all thrive. 

While I can do many things well, others are honestly better at most of them. This isn’t false humility on my part, it’s just truth. 

  • My assistant is a much better gatekeeper of my calendar than I am. 
  • Mastering software and troubleshooting technical issues is just not my thing. 
  • My daughter is a better hostess – by far – than me. 

These are just three examples from a very long list. I’m determined (going forward) to ask for help, improve how I delegate, and give the people around me the freedom to do what they do best. 

Cultivating the peace that comes from proper priorities. 

Stress is a part of leadership. Honestly, a little stress gives us the energy and motivation to achieve. However, stress skyrockets when our priorities are misaligned. As I adjust to the loss of my father, I’m intentionally cultivating the peace that comes from putting my focus on the things that matter most in my life. This lesson is one of his last gifts to me, and I’m so grateful. 

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