Good intentions and noble purposes mean nothing in utter chaos. Staying on top of what you are doing requires a good amount of organization. When you're also depending on others, having organizational skills will spell the difference between success and failure — and perhaps whether you reach for the aspirin bottle at the end of the day.
Managing Your Time
Organization starts with time management. Leaders become responsible not only for their own activities but for the collective actions of the entire group. (And you thought your usual to-do list was getting long!) Time management for the endeavor as a whole becomes a major issue.
The fundamental principle is learning to create priorities. There are never enough people, hours, or funds to do everything you would like in the time frame called for. The question becomes whether you are getting the most important things done. If you are, you have a better chance, overall, of keeping things on track. If you aren't, then it's like sitting at your desk, trying to accomplish something while immediately answering every phone call and e-mail that come in.
After you have your priorities, you need to learn how to use your time most effectively. Accurate scheduling is critical. You have to learn how to track what is going on, make sure that certain things happen in the proper order, and know who is doing what. This will ensure that people are not duplicating efforts and that critical items have the help they require.
An old prank is to push a potato into a car's exhaust. When the driver tries to start the car, it starts to turn over and then shuts down because the potato keeps the gases from leaving the car. Because the gases can't escape, the pistons can't push them out of the cylinders, and the entire engine stops. That's what disorganization does to the engine of group effort.
Once you have time organized, you'll need to organize everything else. As the old saying goes, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Although that may seem boringly clerical, it's of particular importance to leaders. Now you're responsible for your own things as well as those of the entire undertaking — not just those in your work space, but those of all the other team members. Organization is like building a house: Disturb one floor of the house, and it can affect every floor. Disorganization on any level becomes the chokepoint for activity.
To keep yourself from being the chokepoint, you'll need to improve your delegation skills. If you micromanage, you're not leading; you're trying to do everything yourself. You can't properly motivate others because you make your own level of participation and control more important than your goals.
Once you've developed your time management and organizational systems, the tough part starts. Now you have to maintain what you've spent so much energy setting up. This book offers advice on how to use time management and project planning intelligently, building flexibility into everyone's schedules so that when — not if — things go wrong, you'll have the ability to recover and put things aright. You'll also have the flexibility to look ahead, not being satisfied with things as they are now, but ready to modify your plans and even change directions when necessary. The idea of time management and organization isn't to be rigid, but to have enough control that you can always advance the company, organization, or cause as new opportunities permit. Do what you need to do, delegate other things, and then consider how else you can improve the overall effort or organization.
As you organize, you also must be sure to maintain the right principles in what your team does. You must consider the organization's requirements and also reach them within the appropriate ethical, regulatory, and legal limits. In other words, it's not just where you end up that counts, but how you get there. Consider the “leaders” of such companies as Enron, World-Com, and Tyco. Although they worked with employees to achieve a goal, the goals were really focused on the leaders, and their resulting disregard for proper behavior brought those businesses to the edge of ruin. In the quest to achieve, you can't forget to take the high road.