[June 25, 2018] A friend wrote me on Facebook yesterday and asked about our time in the military and why we were so effective at our jobs but not always very efficient at what we were doing. Leader effectiveness is not (I repeat not) always about efficiency.
These concepts are often conflated with one another. It is also assumed that efficiency is good and inefficiency is bad; that efficiency is the gold standard in leadership and that anything else is impracticable. That is not, however, the case when we look at the results of good leadership.
I think that most people would agree that the best measure of a great leader is the outcome of their efforts. The greater and better the outcomes, the more effective that leader is measured on any scale of success.
A simple illustration will suffice to show that sometimes an inefficient effort may lead to greater effectiveness. Back in 2003 and 04, just as we were attempting to stabilize the country of Iraq, our division’s commander wanted us to employ as many Iraqi men as possible.
These were the men, recently unemployed, who had time on their hands and were easy prey for extremists who wanted to recruit them. Our task was to get them to work, to be productive, to take them off the streets and away from the attractiveness of terrorism. We did this by creating jobs that were as inefficient as possible so that we could employ more men.1
Effectiveness in accomplishing our tasks is what we wanted and here it was the opposite of efficiency. Leader effectiveness means getting the job done and within the rules and within the guidance provided to us. Sometimes leaders must deal effectively with difficult problems; as was the case in Iraq.
The lesson for all leaders is to remember always that results matter more than the technique. Leadership is about getting results and sometimes how to do it is counterintuitive.
- One job we had was filling sandbags. Those sandbags were used to protect our tents from mortar and artillery fire. We had automated sandbag machines that could turn-out about 200 sandbags per hour. Instead of using the machine, we used shovels and employed more men to do the work. We accomplished our task of employing more men by being less efficient.