Think Leadership Ideas

The 5 Priorities of Leadership

What to Focus On So Your Organization Gets Results

A universal hazard of leading any organization is being pulled in so many different directions that you lose sight of what is important. So where should leaders focus energy, effort, and attention? Answer: focus on priorities of leadership concern.

I believe there are 5 key priorities for leading an organization - direction, performance, innovation, structure, and culture. These 5 concerns apply to leading organizations of every size and in every sector - business, non-profit, and public.

Attention to all 5 of the priorities is essential, although the proportion of attention paid to each specific priority area will vary by organization and circumstances. Indeed, bringing all 5 of these organizational concerns into alignment is part of the “art” of leadership. Focus too much on or too little on any of these priorities, and you hamper your organization from maximizing success.

It’s easy to become consumed by the day to day activities of an organization, to feel like you’re working hard in your business but not really leading it. Leadership is about the discipline of attending to leadership priorities - when you work on these, you are working ON your business, not just in it.

5 Priorities of Leadership

Leaders ensure that fundamental questions are addressed - why does the endeavor exist, where is it going, and how will it get there? Direction serves as a guide for performance and innovation. Direction includes an organization’s purpose, often captured in mission and vision statements; shared principles or values that guide action; and strategy, the specific set of actions an endeavor performs that make it distinctive.

Leaders attend to how efficiently and effectively results are achieved, how well is the organization doing it’s work. Leaders of exceptional organizations focus efforts to achieve specific objectives, and then measure results. Wise leaders measure performance from several perspectives - e.g., financial and sales, customer experience and satisfaction, operations and marketing, and learning and development.

Leaders attend to how ‘new dimensions of performance’ are created. What does the endeavor need to do differently? How is change handled? Innovation is often at a ‘creative tension’ with performance - performance being about systems to reduce errors and increase efficiency, whereas innovation is best supported through experimentation that is often inefficient and downright chaotic. Exceptional leaders seek the right balance.

Structure organizes activities and drives behavior, much the way the banks of a river direct the flow of water. Savvy leaders pay close attention to crafting structures - formal processes, how teams or departments are organized, facilities are laid out, etc. - that drive achievement of desired results, while minimizing obstacles along the way.

If structure is like the banks of a river, culture is like the river’s current. It guides what people do by default, how they make use of the organization’s structures - or work around them! Sage leaders pay great attention to shaping the organization culture so it aligns with organizational structures, and supports desired direction, performance, and innovation.

by Tom Stevens (c)2012
Tom Stevens helps leaders create and sustain exceptional organizations. To contact Tom, visit or call 800 727-9788

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