Manager's Corner: The Buckshot vs. The Bullet Approach

Manager's Corner
The Buckshot vs. The Bullet Approach

Many years ago, while on a business trip, I met with a new manager in Guatemala. She had been in her position for one month, was excited about its possibilities, and she had a great deal of energy. After years of neglect and lackluster management, her department had so many areas that needed attention; it was somewhat overwhelming. But, she was determined to get things in shape.
When I arrived for our first meeting, she was on the phone, had two lines on hold, and she was sitting in the midst of piles of papers. When she had completed her three immediate phone calls, she unplugged her phone so we wouldn't be interrupted. I then let her outline her unending "To Do" list. As she shared her list, I noticed many of the items she considered "important" weren't. They simply needed to be addressed at some point in the future. It soon became very clear, she was spinning out of control as she attempted to do "everything" immediately. Because of this, she was losing sight of what truly was important and she was burning out. She was expending so much of her energy doing things that were less important but were "quicker fixes", that when she faced something truly important, she was tired and worn out. She'd put it off until she had more time and energy to deal with it. I told her she was using the buckshot approach and not the bullet approach.
When you shoot buckshot from a shotgun, the pellet explodes upon firing. It spreads buckshot pellets everywhere with the anticipation one or more pellets will hit the target, while the rest of the pellets are wasted or hit unintended targets. A rifle on the other hand, sends a single bullet at its target. A rifle shot if very focused and sends its bullet (i.e., its energy) at one thing and one thing only. The new manager was throwing her energies all over the place just to get something done. She had been working on projects that were important to her, but they were really things that no one else would care about in the long run. Because of this, she was making small improvements here and there, but she wasn't addressing the serious problems that had domino-like ramifications if not addressed properly.
When we worked to re-prioritize her "To Do" list, we focused on addressing the most serious and the most far-reaching issues first. As we worked through this exercise and identified her critical path, we were able to eliminate many items from her original list. They became non-issues or were resolved indirectly once the overarching problems were addressed.
If you feel overwhelmed with "everything" you have to do, ask yourself if you are working on things that really need your attention now or are you working on things that are "quick-fixes". Are you doing "busy work" or are you focused on the things that will move you closer to your goals? Are you using buckshot or a bullet?

Liz Weber of Weber Business Services, LLC. WBS specializes in Strategic, Business, and Succession Planning, as well as employee and leadership training. Liz can be reached at mailto: or (717)597-8890