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On Life And Leadership: Angels & Zombies

Can you see the finish line?

My finish line for the year is Dec 15th and I’ll take a month off. What’s your finish line?

I bet you’re pretty committed to it.

But I imagine you’re also struggling towards that line trying to juggle priorities, and carrying a heavy load.

What do you want to feel like when you cross that line? Do you want to feel clarity, satisfaction? Do you want to be looking forward to coming back to work in January?

Here is an approach I recommend for you and your leadership team. Instead of continuing the limp-to-the-line, it’s time to throw off some of the baggage on your back. It’s time to focus on what really matters.

The biggest issue I saw this year

The biggest challenge I saw this year with leadership teams was prioritisation. More than ever before, we have so many initiatives, projects, stakeholder demands – how do we get anything important done?

There’s a confounding problem here too: we are so busy running, that we can’t take the time to stop for a moment and effectively prioritize.

It’s all doing, and no deciding.

But when teams can take 90-minutes out to align on what truly matters – and what doesn’t – everything gets easier.

Feed your angels & kills your zombies

This year I’ve been facilitating a team conversation I call Kill Your Zombies. We make a list of all the projects, meetings, initiatives, to-dos which they believe take up a chunk of time but are actually like the walking dead – highly unlikely to produce any real value now or in the future.

Once we’ve gathered the list, we can set about killing them one-by-one. The trick is in making sure they stay dead – it’s easy to agree that we’re going to stop saying yes to a certain stakeholder’s whims, but unless you really put a stake through it, ‘saying yes’ may just creep back in.

We can think of these ‘zombies’ as the 20% of your work that creates little or no value. We might call this the reverse pareto principle. They suck up a chunk of your time and energy, without realising any benefit.

What if we also turned our attention to the top 20% of your work, where you really do make an impact?

We can call these the ‘angels’ - the are opposite to zombies.

The angels are where the hope lies, these are pieces of work which – if your whole team aligns on them - they can make a significant impact on transforming an organisation and transforming your results.

Working through a 2024 strategy last week, we started the second day of our offsite with one question.

That one thing is your angel. And if, across the team you can identify a very small list of 2-3 of these, these can become your team’s angels.

Once you’ve identified these top 2-3 priorities, you need to set them up for success.

These are the things you want to be working on now and preparing now, so that you can end 2023 with clarity and start 2024 with the right plans & resources in place to get results early in the new year.

Remember: If you get these right, they make everything else work better.


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