This year, Netflix released a wildly popular new program called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. In the series, Japanese organization expert Marie Kondo visits the clutter-heavy homes of selected American families and helps them tidy up using her now-famous KonMari method.
The springboard for this media sensation was Kondo’s worldwide best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Even if you haven’t read the book or seen the show, you probably know that people can’t stop talking about Kondo and her joy-sparking, stuff-minimizing craze.
Here’s the interesting thing. Kondo’s advice has also huge implications for corporate leaders who are struggling to manage their heavily cluttered schedules and overwhelming lists of commitments.
Even though they are facing relentlessly evolving challenges, many of these leaders remain “chained” to the way they’ve always done things. The routine tasks that frame their workdays include deeply ingrained practices that seem virtually automatic and are rarely questioned.
For instance, they pull up the same old spreadsheets and update the numbers. They keep distributing the monthly report that no one has read since 2017. They continue to use the outdated customer feedback because it is readily available. These well-intentioned professionals are stuck in a cluttered leadership rut.
Where’s Marie Kondo when we need her?
That’s one of the questions I address in my new book, Leadership Unchained. Leaders today are suffocating under the weight of their overbooked calendars, and they don’t even realize it’s happening. The result is a serious drag on productivity and performance.
Some modern leaders are discovering remarkable success by moving in a different direction—one with an interesting parallel to the KonMari method. While most organization experts encourage people to declutter by focusing on what to throw away, Kondo flips the script and emphasizes what to keep.
From the leadership perspective, that means accepting we only have 24 hours in a day. It’s not possible to negotiate for more, so we have to become more strategic about how we fill that time.
Now, I’m fairly certain that high-powered leaders aren’t searching their to-do lists for items that spark joy. But they should be looking for the ones that spark success and profitability. Which tasks, projects, habits, mindsets, and meetings really impact the bottom line?
To determine that, they basically have to conduct a systematic cost/benefit analysis on everything that occupies their time, attention, and energy. It becomes a competition. Everything they do has to prove its worth and earn the right to be there. If it doesn’t help move their teams toward the goals, it’s in jeopardy.
Sometimes that means giving up major, mission-critical business functions or favorite initiatives that have been championed for years. It’s not always easy. But when leaders get absolute clarity about what actually adds true value, it’s much easier to let everything else go.
So what’s the reward for these brave leaders who demolish their dependence on what they’ve always done? They find abundant success through the ingenuity of breaking free from the hidden chains that were holding them down—and they do it by defying conventional wisdom. They narrow their focus to expand their impact. They minimize their actions to maximize their performance. They do less to achieve more.
One of the most stunning examples of this head-turning strategy comes from the leaders at Ford Motor Company. The iconic automotive manufacturer shocked consumers in 2018 with an announcement that seemed unimaginable. Over the next few years, Ford said it would streamline its product line in North America and—gasp!—stop making cars. That’s right: the cars got the KonMari treatment.
Technically, the company plans to continue manufacturing the perennially popular Mustang and one crossover SUV, but they have wholeheartedly committed to focus on the product lines with the greatest potential for success. They analyzed extensive financial data and, basically, made all of their vehicles compete to earn their way onto Ford’s “To-Produce List.” Trucks, utilities, and commercial vehicles made the cut; sedans did not.
Can you even imagine the discussions leading up to a choice of that magnitude with one of the world’s most beloved brands? It might have been painful, but it made sense. We’d need a crystal ball to tell if that move is ultimately successful for Ford, but it’s a brave strategy that seems to have merit and mirrors the trailblazing moves made by some of the most inventive executives of our time. Marie Kondo would be proud.
Without a doubt, it takes commitment for leaders to shed the old projects, tasks, and habits that have become invisible roadblocks. But the financial incentives for making those tough and sometimes-unexpected decisions can pay off in phenomenal ways.
To learn more about the success of “unchained” leaders, I invite you to read my new book, Leadership Unchained: Defy Conventional Wisdom for Breakthrough Performance, available now on Amazon. Download a free chapter here.