Why Priority is Critical in the Design of a Leader
If you're not prioritizing, then you're not leading. Identifying what is priority and orienting yourself and others around it is essential work for any leader.
Where your eyes are drawn in good design is no accident. Whether it’s a painting, a website, or a living room. Visual hierarchy draws your eyes to what’s most important then guides them through the design story.
Visual hierarchy uses various tools to demonstrate what has priority in a design. Some of those tools include:
- Negative space
We’ll dive deeper into a few of these in a future guide project but first, let’s look at how priority is lived out in a leader.
First things first
For a leader to be effective, they must have ordered the priorities in their life. This involves both what we think and what we do.
Take out a piece of paper and write out your top five priorities, not your priorities for today or this week but the priorities of your life. When you’ve written them down, number them in order of importance.
Visual hierarchy draws your eyes to what’s most important then guides them through the story of the design.
How did it go? Did they come to mind quickly? Did any surprise you? Do any of them, or the order of them, make you uncomfortable? Maybe this was your first time identifying your life priorities, or perhaps they’re already printed on your wall, and you just copied them down. Wherever you are on the journey, this next exercise should help provide some clarity for you.
What matters at the end of the day?
When a UX designer creates a website, they are focused on the call to action. What do they want you to do when you come to the page. This call to action is the clear success criteria by which to evaluate the design of their app or website? Similarly, let’s consider what will be the measure of success for your life and your leadership.
This may seem a little weird, but imagine it is the day of your funeral. The significant people in your life have gathered to remember and celebrate your life. What will they celebrate? How will they describe you? What stories do they tell? What themes emerge as people share? Think about the most important people in your life: your spouse, children, parents, and closest friend. Imagine them specifically; what do they each say? Beyond the fluff, what’s the core message they have about your life.
Goals vs. priorities
The exercise above can often be unsettling. It uncovers that we haven’t really differentiated between goals and priorities. Goals describe some things we want to accomplish. Priorities describe what’s important.
When I take the time to think about it, it’s not my accomplishments I desire people to share about; it’s how I treated them as people. Did I live my life for myself or others? I hope my kids share that I wasn’t too busy for them. That when they wanted to play, I was available. As a goal-oriented, driven person, this was a sobering gut-check. I’ve done this exercise many times, and it continues to be effective in reorienting me to my priorities. I move from “What will I accomplish?” to “How have I loved others?”
…we haven’t really differentiated between goals and priorities. Goals describe some things we want to accomplish, priorities describe what’s really important.
When you put your priorities into words, you may experience many different emotions. You may be excited and energized by the focus. But you may also be sobered by the gap between what you have identified as essential and how an observer might describe your life. You can’t go back and change the past, but you can redeem it through decisions made today.
Scaling your priorities
When you don’t identify the big priorities that have a hierarchy in your life, something takes its place. Your daily goals scale up to become your priorities. As I discussed earlier, goals don’t make the best priorities. Instead of scaling goals up, you want to scale our priorities down.
You move from “How will I steward my life?” to “How will I steward this hour?” I like the word steward because it highlights that I'm not indeed the owner of my life. Your life is a gift, and you steward that gift. Stewardship isn’t about control but intentionality and often submission to one another.
Instead of scaling goals up, you want to scale our priorities down.
Let’s try this with one of your priorities. Choose one from the list. I’m choosing “Being present (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually) with my family.” I want my wife, children, and friends to describe me as being present and engaged when I was with them. Now I scale that priority from the scope of my life to the scope of this year and ask the question, “What will it look like to be present and engaged this year?”
Scaling down to the everyday
This might lead me to evaluate if I’m stewarding my time and money to make time to get away with family or friends. I might look at what time I begin and end work on an average day. I might reflect on what most often prevents me from being present with others. Last year this led me to ruthlessly remove almost all of the notifications on my phone and create spaces in my house to place my phone, so it wasn’t always on me.
You can continue to scale down to asking about this month, week, or even “What will it look like the be present and engaged today?” Sometimes when I ask this question, it leads me to reschedule part of my day because it is out of balance with my priorities in a way that I’m not ok with. While you can plan for a month, a quarter, a year, or even a lifetime, you make decisions in moments. These moments, individually and in the aggregate, shape your life and the lives of those around you. Creating a cadence of review can help you continue to evaluate and course correct according to your priorities.
Working through your life’s priorities isn’t easy, but we need to lean into this essential work. You can begin your journey of living by your priorities today.
Why Priority Is Critical In The Design Of A Leader was originally posted on everyday.design where I explore how to design think your everyday life.