Knowing how to make decisions that lead to constructive results is a vital tool in your professional and personal life. But how many of those decisions bring you closer to achieving your goals? What does it take to render decisions that significantly improve your life? Steve McClatchy, founder and president of Alleer Training & Consulting, a Malvern, Pennsylvania-based firm that specializes in improving results in leadership, personal growth, and work/life engagement, tackles these questions in his new book Decide. Business writer Robert Lerose spoke with McClatchy about the difference between managing and leading, when it pays to delegate, and the little-known strategy for preventing an interruption from throwing you off stride.
RL: Your personal definition of leadership is "improvement." What did you mean by that?
SM: The leader is the person making things better. It's not about the title. It's about the result you produce. Anybody in an organization can be a leader. You never arrive at leadership—never. As soon as you arrive, you're now managing. So leadership is a continuous commitment to make things better. It's an exhausting responsibility, but it's very rewarding. When your life—your relationships, your business—gets better, the natural byproduct to that is excitement.
RL: You say that we pursue something either to move toward a gain or to prevent pain—and that tasks driven by the former produce more significant positive results. Why?
SM: Gain is really connecting our goals and improvement. For example, I wrote Decide. That’s a gain task. It was something I didn't have to do. It was something I wanted to do. When I'm 100 years old, I'll remember that I wrote this book. But will I remember that I took out the trash today? No. It's a great example of a maintenance task. We do it because we think of what will happen if we don't do it. Gain tasks produce such significant results because they're in the improvement mode.
RL: You've found that delegation gives us the time to move things forward. How can we decide how and what and when to delegate?
SM: Delegation starts with understanding the opportunity cost of your time. Whenever you're tending to a maintenance item, you're neglecting something else that only you can do. There are a lot of things to consider when you're delegating. Is someone more available than me and does time matter? Is someone better at the task than me and does quality matter? Does someone need the task to learn, to grow, to develop, to be engaged? What is the cost of me doing the task versus someone else doing the task? But the biggest thing to consider is: What else could you be doing with your time if you were not doing that task? If you get back that time and do something in your business that only you can do, you will never regret that decision. If the answer is improvement, it's a great decision.
SM: The to-do list is for maintenance items. You create it for speed, not for quality or success. You can group like tasks together. You can choose the best time to do a maintenance item where it would take the least amount of time. You don't forget anything when you have a list. The transition time between tasks is faster when you have a list.
RL: The second tool is a calendar. How does that assist with making decisions?
SM: The calendar is for our goals and improvement, not maintenance items. Use the calendar to make an appointment [for yourself]. We get into a completely different mode when we have an appointment. If the reason you're falling behind on your maintenance items is because you're working on your life or business, it's a great decision. Ask yourself: Are you working on the business or working in the business? There's a process to see gain and improvement in your life. First, schedule the goal. Second, defend it until you get to it. If you fail at these steps, there's another: pay somebody to make you do it. Owe your goal to somebody else. If you have to pay them to hold you accountable to your goal, it's worth it. As long as the reason you're spending the money is [to achieve] the goal, you'll never regret that decision.
RL: You wrote that there are some benefits to procrastination. For example?
SM: Procrastination is motivation by fear. As you get closer to that start time before the task is due, you start to think about what will happen if you don't do it—the apology, embarrassment, repairing of the relationship, the loss of trust, the time involved in doing that. Now you're scared, and the adrenalin releases to give you energy to do something you didn't want to do.
RL: And the downside to procrastinating?
SM: When the task deadline arrives, you are no longer in control. Now you're under pressure. When something is controlling you, there's resentment. Pressure influences quality and pressure is present when you procrastinate.
RL: What are some diplomatic ways for managing interruptions?
SM: One of the best tips I teach is: don't be available for the interruption. If you're always sitting at your desk, go into the conference room and work on something for two hours. Shut your door and put a sign up that you're not available until later. But the number one missing ingredient in a managed interruption is what is being interrupted. If you're interrupting someone who's mowing the grass, you can see physically what you're interrupting. The problem with information work is that you can't see it. Nobody thinks anyone's working because we can't see it. So one of the most effective things you can do whenever you're interrupted is just share with the person what it is that's being interrupted. We respect our own time when we do that.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.