The Single Best Tool to Make You a Better Leader

Nothing else so clearly focuses our attention and requires us to acknowledge completion.

There are seemingly endless opportunities to waste our time in search of improved productivity, increased creativity and higher quality in our personal and working lives. The buffet of apps for our devices and ubiquitous articles offering tips to help us conquer our personal drift toward entropy are everywhere. It feels as if everyone is looking for help and no one is finding what they need.

In my informal polling of people I encounter, most are not feeling better organized and prioritized and on-task as a result. Most people tend to look and act like their hair is perpetually on fire.

Perhaps we’re looking for technology to solve a distinctly analog (human) challenge.

The other day I observed a pilot at a small regional airport prepare to fly his private plane on a cross-country journey carrying his wife and infant child. Precious cargo.

He walked slowly around the plane looking it over and testing the various moveable parts. He made certain the gas caps were secure, ran his hands over the plane’s surface and then satisfied that all was good, he climbed into a cockpit filled with technology and proceeded to pull out the most fundamental of all personal productivity and quality tools, the checklist.

This pilot has thousands of hours of flight time gained in over 40 years of flying. I suspect he could recite the preflight checklist in his sleep. Nonetheless, he diligently checked every item on the list as if it was his first time preparing to fly.

No other tool so clearly focuses our attention and requires us to acknowledge completion.

As a lifesaving tool, the use of the checklist is probably most responsible for the overall great safety record in the aviation industry.

Create Your Own Checklist

Perhaps the app we are all looking for to ensure we do the right things in the right order to improve our productivity and quality is the tried and true checklist.

Here are some ideas for your own preflight checklists:

  • The life checklist reminds us to love our families, treat everyone we encounter with kindness and respect, take care of our physical and mental health and strive to learn from our copious personal mistakes. Some of us should include the reminder to not take ourselves too seriously.
  • The leadership checklist draws on the life checklist and reminds us of our responsibility to create value with every encounter—to strive to make someone’s situation better while helping them to do their best. The most potent reminder on this list is to “make meaning” through our actions.
  • The citizen’s checklist reminds us of our responsibilities as individuals living in a free land. It includes our obligation to serve our country, engage in civil discourse about civic issues and to never take our freedoms for granted.

Much like my pilot friend relying on his checklist to safely shepherd his family home, our own checklists will help us focus on what matters. Of course, like the pilot, you have to use it daily and diligently. And the best things about this app: you don’t need to charge a device to run it, it doesn’t require you to invest in cloud storage and there’s no cost for upgrades ever.

Art Petty is a coach and consultant working with executives and management teams to unlock business and human potential. He writes the Leadership Caffeine blog.