Developing and maintaining a strategic focus as an expert
Summary: Master Experts don't only respond to others' immediate needs. They also take control of their calendars to focus on longer term value adds
Written by Dominic Johnson 04 Apr 2023

How often, as experts, do we find ourselves frustrated at what takes up our time - responding perpetually to others’ requirements - and not getting to the juicy, higher-value, more interesting strategic stuff that feels like our best work?

One of the key distinctions between capable experts and master experts is how or where they spend their time. Organisations are hungry for the advice and other inputs of experts and, typically, experts can spend more or less their entire working lives earnestly responding to and servicing stakeholder’s requests. And their doing so often offers significant immediate value. Yet their most significant contributions, their most important value adds, are more often the kinds of things that stakeholders aren’t yet asking for – addressing longer term payoffs, future requirements, innovative solutions, the opportunities that only someone with their expertise might realise are possible.

How, when important stakeholders are unrelenting in their genuine requests for urgent input, can an expert carve out time for strategic shaping, long term strategic initiatives that typically have no due date?

We hear it all the time from experts we work with in our programs:-

  • “I want to get more involved in knowledge transfer, coaching others and knowledge curation but it takes time I don’t currently have. Even if others could eventually learn to take some of the strain, that takes time to master. In the meantime, I’m already maxed out.”

  • “I have so many ideas about how our organization might compete more effectively and differentiate itself in our market but my current workload squeezes out any available opportunities to work on strategic initiatives.”

  • “I’d love to get on the front foot and engage earlier with stakeholders to understand their emerging needs but there never seems to be any time available for such conversations.”

In all of these cases, the experts in question seem to feel beholden to the immediate needs and expectations of others and feel that they have no agency to take charge of their own calendars and proactively claim space for the proverbial Quadrant II activities – initiatives which are high value but not particularly urgent. Yet, the only way that one break the vicious cycle of drowning in urgent tasks is to proactively identify and schedule the game changing, proactive, high value actions into one’s calendar – irrespective of their apparent low urgency.

The practice of routinely identifying all of one’s key roles and potential contributions, setting associated goals and claiming space in the calendar before the world has had opportunity to claim all available space is the only way we know to shift the focus to Quadrant II, strategic activities. Otherwise, the openness of our diaries for everyone else to consume our time with their needs crowds out our opportunity to do our best work. We literally get consumed – devoured. And though our responsive outputs are often heroic and somewhat appreciated, we are short-changing ourselves, our stakeholders and our organisations from our potentially highest valued adds.

A little plan of clever planning for even a few minutes per week can result in a significant shift towards the strategic.

  1. What are all of the most important roles and contributions that would constitute my most impactful adding of value? (e.g. Work: Content Creator, Partnering with Sales, Coaching Colleagues, Ongoing Learning and Research…. Outside work: Family and community activities, personal fitness and well being, etc)

  2. What primary outcome will I seek to achieve in each of these roles this week? And what will I do exactly (and how long might that take)?

  3. When will I commit to doing that? (and ensuring that an appointment is created accordingly – and then carried out as per commitment)

Over time, this simple approach to planning – as long as there is associated execution – is the key to shifting from merely (noble) servicing of others’ requests to delivering long-term strategic value, transforming one’s environment and even improved quality of life.

  • That book that is within you will get written

  • You’ll build others’ competence, confidence and self-reliance to be independently capable

  • You’ll work on more and more fresh and interesting challenges – with more quantifiable value adds – and your career and brand will evolve way beyond the constraints of being a “technical fixer”

For more on the expertship model, please read The Expertship Model or download the article below

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