discretionary effort

Discretionary Effort Happens When Leaders Lead Well

By Paul Sarvadi

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

– John Quincy Adams

Discretionary effort is the extra effort people willingly and enthusiastically give to a cause, company, or leader that has won their hearts.  It is mighty and powerful, not just a job done well but with purpose, vision, and commitment. Characteristically, discretionary effort is fragile and can be lost by a leader’s duplicitous act or the disappointing realization that the employee is not valued.  Discretionary effort is not just an 8-hour shift where the employee leases their skills for a bi-weekly paycheck; rather it is an employee’s commitment of heart, intellect, and creativity to achieve their envisioned result.

There are several keys to invoking this commitment. Below are four that you should consider.

  1. You must understand your people. One of the challenges of being a leader is to daily wear the hat of a behavioral scientist. You must develop the ability to take the pulse of individuals and your teams.
  2. You must engage your people in a compelling vision and mission for the company. No matter the role, employees must understand how what they do each day directly affects the customer and company success.
  3. Establish a clear strategic plan. Communicate it and thoughtfully reflect it in the company-wide goals. People will unite if they collectively see the same vision.
  4. You must be visible and reasonably accessible to employees; and humble enough to receive feedback. The problem with top-down strategic planning is that it often misses key customer and operational information picked up by “foundation” level (note: there should be no such things as “low” level) employees. They often see what you can’t: problems brewing; customer wedges being driven, and broken processes that threaten the firm. Your receptivity and respect for each employee will stir in them personal commitment and spawn discretionary effort.

If, as John Quincy Adams’ said, your leadership causes people to dream, learn, do and, most importantly, to become more, they will give your company their discretionary effort and often inspire it in others. To lead well is to elevate your people. Your well-led team, providing their discretionary effort, will be the multiplier you need to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage and strategic success.

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