Let’s cut right to the chase; stop focusing on being efficient – it’s a waste of time. Nobody other than perhaps you really cares how efficient you are, but everyone cares how effective you are. Not only do they care how effective you are, but they also care about the effectiveness of those whom you lead. It’s important to remember leadership is a people business, and people are messy. Leadership has little to do with how neat and tidy things are, but everything to do with how successful you are at scaling effectiveness.

Efficient vs. Effective – there is sometimes a very big difference between the two. So much so, that I’ve really come to cringe every time I hear the word efficiency.

It’s not really that there’s anything wrong with becoming more efficient, but far too many executives major in the minors when it comes to efficiency. Stop focusing on optics over outcomes. Don’t worry about how you look, worry about the results you produce.

Let me ask you a question – Have you become so efficient that you’ve rendered yourself ineffective? At an organizational level, have you focused so much on process improvements and incremental gains that you’ve failed to engage people, and seek opportunities to be disruptive? Are you efficient or effective, or do you know?

I really don’t have a problem with increasing efficiency so long as the tail doesn’t start wagging the dog. If you’re a baseball player who has beautifully efficient swing mechanics, but you can’t hit the ball – who cares? If efficiency starts diluting productivity rather than increasing it, something is woefully amiss.  This is more than an issue of semantics – it’s become a systemic problem with many individuals and organizations. Here’s the thing – process in and of itself was never engineered to be the outcome, it was designed to support the creation of the right outcomes.

If you’re not tracking with me yet, ask yourself the following questions: Do you send an email when you should make a phone call, or worse, do you hide behind the phone when you should be face-to-face? Even worse yet – the leader who sends a message by proxy when it should have been delivered personally. Do your sophisticated screening processes do such a great job of filtering they blind you to new opportunities and critical information? If your desk is so clean you don’t have anything to work on then you might be focusing on the wrong thing – it might be time to make a bit of a mess (see Leadership Is About Breaking Things).

What I want you to recognize is sometimes the least efficient thing can lead to the most productive outcome. A great example of this would be carving out time in your already too busy schedule to mentor someone in your organization. Clearly this endeavor will take time, and may not yield immediate results, but the payoff organizationally, relationally, culturally, and in terms of future contribution can be huge.

As I’ve said many times before, things don’t always have to boil down to either/or types of decisions – not everything must end-up on the altar of sacrificial decisioning. With the proper perspective and focus it is quite possible to be both efficient and effective. An efficient process can enable effective resource utilization. The two concepts can co-exist so long as the focus remains on the proper thing – results. Smart leaders don’t just focus on moving the needle, they focus on moving the right needles, at the right times, and for the right reasons.

Bottom line – check your motivations. When you ever so efficiently cross something off your to-do list has it moved you farther away from, or closer to, putting points on the board? Better yet, are the items on your to-do list even the right items to begin with? Lastly, I’ll leave you with this reminder – leadership is not about how many emails, memos, and transmittals are sent under your signature – it’s about relationships, service, and engagement.