Leadership: Make it Look Easy

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The great ones make it look easy. Think about Patricia Fripp giving a speech, or Ina Garten cooking a meal, or Ray Allen launching a jump shot from the corner.

When I think of making it look easy, I remember Art Jones. Art was the best supervisor I ever saw up close. One day, I was talking about Art with another excellent supervisor, Bill Wallace. He said, “The thing about Art is that he makes it look easy. It’s like he comes to work and puts on his slippers.”

That’s how it is for all the great performers I’ve seen. It’s like they come to work and put on their slippers. When I was a boy, we’d say that they were blessed with natural talent or that they were born to do what they’re doing. Talent does play a part, but most of those who make it look easy do a lot of hard work to make it so.

That’s good news, because it means that excellence is something you can achieve. Here’s what I’ve observed that the people who make it look easy do to make it look easy.

Determine What’s Important

Determine what you must do to succeed. Some things are far more important than other things.

Many people call it the Pareto Principle. Joseph Juran called it “The Principal of the Vital Few.” It seems like a law of nature. No matter what you’re doing, a small percentage of the things you do (say, 20 percent) account for a big chunk of the results you get (say, 80 percent). Identify those “vital few” things.

Once you know what they are, make sure they get done. That’s simple, but not easy. Use habits, checklists, and reminders to help you. Many important things should get done every day. Most aren’t exciting, interesting, or sexy. But if you do them, your odds of succeeding and making it look easy go up.

If you spend most of your time on the 20 percent of the most important stuff, what do you do about the rest? Well, some of it probably doesn’t need to be done at all. So, don’t do it. You can outsource some of it and automate some of it.

Master the Fundamentals

Whatever you do, there are fundamentals to be mastered. If you play the saxophone, master the fingering. That way, you won’t have to think about it when you want to achieve a certain effect. Make the fundamentals unconscious so you can use your precious brain power to find creative solutions.

Work on the fundamentals every day. Keep records so you won’t kid yourself about what you worked on and how long you worked.

Mastering the fundamentals is hard. Top musicians and athletes work on them every day, long after they’ve achieved peak performance. When you make it look easy, though, most people will attribute it to your “natural ability” or your “gifts.” That’s when you should remember this quote from Ray Allen, one of the great shooters in the history of professional basketball.

“When people say God blessed me with a beautiful jump shot, it really pisses me off. I tell those people, ‘Don’t undermine the work I’ve put in every day.’ Not some days. Every day. Ask anyone who has been on a team with me who shoots the most. Go back to Seattle and Milwaukee and ask them. The answer is me.”

Know Thyself

You will do some important things naturally. That’s easy. But some of the things you must do will turn out to be hard. The rule is simple: “What you don’t do naturally, you must do consciously.”

That’s when simple if/then rules can help. So can reminders and rituals and checklists and habits.

Bottom Line

Making it look easy is hard. Determine what’s most important and make sure you do it. Master the fundamentals of your craft. Learn what you must do consciously and find ways to do it.

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