The Three Variables of Leadership October 16 2013

math-bboardThere are a lot of theories on what it takes to be an effective leader. Here’s an interesting one that I heard recently from an experienced senior executive who was a guest speaker in one of our Next Level Leadership® group coaching programs for high potential leaders.

This executive’s perspective is that effective leadership is about getting things done and that getting things done boils down to the effective management of three variables – time, money and resources.

Agree? Disagree? Take a quick look at where he’s coming from on each and weigh in with your take.

Time: This variable comes in two forms – the amount of hours you have in a week or a month and the deadline you set for getting something done. There’s nothing you can do about the hours in a week. You might have options on the deadline.

Money: In terms of getting things done, money gives you a range of choices. When it comes to acquiring the expertise you need to get something done, you can buy, you can rent or you can build. Which path you choose will depend on the amount of money that’s available to you and any constraints on acquiring expertise that the deadline imposes.

Resources: In this executive’s view, resources is a synonym for people. Ultimately, it’s people who get things done and the leader’s job is to mobilize and motivate them to do that. The most important resource you have to manage as a leader is yourself. If you can’t explain a problem and a solution to yourself, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to successfully do so for others.

So what do you think? How do the three variables of leadership match up with your experience? Do they cover the basics? What important elements of leadership do they miss?

6 Responses to “The Three Variables of Leadership”

  1. Jenny says:

    This is an interesting and useful list. I realize this post is taken from a larger presentation, but I am a little surprised that the variable of the "goal" or "end game" isn't listed; that addition would incorporate a vision and mission orientattion that is not directly captured here. How do you know WHAT to direct time, resources, and money towards? Perhaps that variable is assumed in the "things" in "getting things done" backdrop, but I think that often leaders get derailed when they don't keep their eye on the ball, or worse, don't appear sure of what game is being played. As such, I think it is a variable worth explicitly listing.

  2. Alice Waagen says:

    I think that this is a nice, succinct summary of the domains that leaders need to juggle. I like the concept of "variables". It is a more neutral term than constraints and implies that they are the dials to adjust to achieve results. Good perspective to take to overcome nay-sayers who want to stymie change.

  3. Scott, I'd add Energy (physical, emotional) to this list and I would substitute Commitments for Time. You cannot actually manage time. You can manage the commitments you make to yourself and others–and this, of course, happens through time. Tony Schwartz and David Allen are my two favorite guides on these topics, respectively.

  4. My view is that these are variables of project management rather than leadership. Leadership, in current times, includes establishing business strategy, organization core purpose and company culture to mention a few.

  5. frankgebhardt says:

    Interesting list, Scott. I honestly disagree with it in full. The listed variables are constraints that every manager needs to juggle. It is a question on how to get things done. A leader is much more concerned about why and what needs to be done. As Jenny pointed out, a leader is concerned about a vision or mission. Hence the ability to communicate purpose, provide focus, and inspire passion are in my opinion more critical on leadership level.

  6. Ken Ewan says:

    Lots of thoughts related to this Post, mostly contradicting the presented theory. First, I think that a "telling" comment is when it is stated that "effective management is related to 3 things". Whether you agree with the 3 or not, the point is they are management actions not necessarily leadership actions or behaviors. Second, I spent a career leading organizations in the large capital projects industry for pharma/biotech companies. We provided superior tools to deliver capital projects to all project managers and resourced them with quality people at all levels. As one would expect, we had varying levels of "success" from our project managers ranging from overwhelming success to ho-hum finishes. Most times the leader made the difference with the SAME TOOLS and support. They were compensated and advanced according. Most managers who focused only on the "hard" tools and data afforded them instead of enhancing the opportunity to for his teammates to succeed, fell by the wayside in his journey through his career!

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