In our Leadership Development Intensive (LDI) pre-work, we have a question about ‘economy of effort’ that has most people stumped. What does it mean? Most people had never heard of this phrase before. It means we achieve our desired outcomes with the minimum effort. It’s a lot like the common phrase ‘work smarter not harder’- but what does it look like? Taking this idea further, we also think it’s about acting with ease- acting with grace and flow. We normally ask people ‘have you ever worked really hard and gone home energised?’ conversely, ‘have you ever done very little and gone home exhausted?’ These are clues to our effectiveness. When we are working very hard and not making any headway it is surely a sign that something is ‘off’. So what are the factors that help us achieve maximum effectiveness with minimum ? We have the Five Fs….


1.  Focus

When our energy is focused and directed, we can achieve a great deal. When our energy is unfocused, we experience working very hard but not getting anywhere- we end up working harder and harder with less and less tangible results. Peopel who have been in our talks and workshops, you will have come across ‘110% listening’. This is being totally present and totally focused on the subject/ task in hand. Listening in this context is our attention- placing our attention completely.


2. Flexibility

Focused while staying open to the moment to moment unfolding. This ability to be open and attuned to the shifts in the environment is hard to achieve- particularly in the business world. It is common for business executives to be focused and goal-oriented and for most part, it is the ability to drive results that make executives rise to the top. However, this ‘lock-on’ type of focusing also means that shifts in a situation are ‘locked-out’ leading to a diminished ability for executives to respond appropriately to changing circumstances. As a result, more effort is used than necessary.


3.  Failure as point of excitement

Though we read about how to embrace failture particularly if we are interested in creativity and innovation, few of us enjoy failure—but this is exactly what is needed if we are interested in efficiency of effort.


4.  Following my TOV as a daily practice

When we are in our TOV, time flows and we flow. This is for sure a sign that we are in our ‘zone’. But our TOV needs to be nurtured and developed with discipline and practice. What comes to mind is years as a dancer and musician when I was younger. In both art forms I hated practising barr work and scales- I just saw them as getting in the way of the actual thing itself. As I am older and look back to those practise sessions, I have a renewed appreciation of how crucial those sessions were in enabling me to actually enjoy the dance and the music—anyone who has been through this or who has children learning an instrument will relate to this for sure! Training and the daily practice of looking at how to do what we love or what we are good at in better and new ways is essential in improving our effectiveness and ease in which we can get into our zone. This is also why the practice of daily reminding ourselves of our stretches and our GPS is so core to our growth.


5.  Flag up early when things are not ‘right’

We all have an intrinsic ‘knowing’. It seems the more we are educated and trained, the less we trust our own internal voice of wisdom. When things are not quite ‘right’ we usually know but few of us trust this voice. Instead, we reason this voice away. We tell ourselves all the reasons why ‘everything is ok’ or ‘everything will be ok’ if I try harder. How do we work smarter rather than word harder? The first thing we need to do is to accept that something is not ‘right’. You don’t even have to know for sure what it is but admitting it to yourself, telling your colleagues, talking about this with your partner/ spouse is a good starting point. By invoking this early warning sign and flag things up will save a lot of effort later. Because in our experience of executive and organisation coaching, bad things tend to turn worse unless individuals can step back and do something differently. The Pinch Theory is one such example of how interpersonal conflicts need to be flagged up early and talked about before they become much more toxic crunches that often lead to stalemate or one or both parties exiting the relationships mad and dumb.


What we are advocating here are actions that can be taken by everyone- they are not difficult to do. What makes them challenging is that they are counter-intuitive thus requiring a mindfulness not just in terms of what we do but how we are doing as we are working towards our goals and objectives and have the courage to stop and make different choices when we are aware that things are ‘effort-full’ rather than ‘effort-less’.