#17 The Law of Priorities

From the book “The 21 Laws of Leadership” - John C. Maxwell

#17 The Law of Priorities - Leaders Understand That Activity Is Not Necessarily Accomplishment

Leaders never grow to a point where they no longer need to prioritize.  It’s something that good leaders keep doing, whether they’re leading a small group, running a small business, or leading a billion-dollar corporation.

“A leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, ‘Wrong jungle!” - Steven Covey


Just because we are doing more doesn’t automatically mean that we’re being successful and accomplishing our mission.  For that, you have to look to the Law of Priorities.  

Two guidelines help us measure activity and determine priorities.  The first is the Pareto Principle.  This is applied by focusing your attention on the activities that rank in the top 20 percent in terms of importance that yield an 80 percent return on your effort.  The second is the three R’s which are requirement, return, and reward.  To be effective, leaders must order their lives according to these three questions: 


We are all accountable to someone.  For that reason, your list of priorities must always begin with what is required of you.  Anything required that’s not necessary for you to do personally should be delegated or eliminated.  


As a leader, you should spend most of your time working in your areas of greatest strength.  If something can be done 80 percent as well by someone else in your organization, delegate it.  If a responsibility could potentially meet that standard, then develop a person to handle it.  


Tim Redmond admitted, “There are many things that will catch my eye, but there are only a few things that will catch my heart.” The things that bring the greatest personal reward are the fire lighters in a leader’s life.  Nothing energizes a person the way passion does.  


As a team, it’s important to establish four key priority areas and establish time that should be allotted to each. 

Example - NOTE: These differ by team and by resource


  1. Leadership                     19%
  2. Communicating            38%
  3. Creating                         31%
  4. Networking                    12%

If we want to be effective, we have to work according to the Law of Priorities.  


Every time Norman Schwarzkopf assumed a new command, he didn’t just rely on his leadership intuition, he also reexamined the unit’s priorities.  When Lee Iacocca took over Chrysler, the first thing he did was to reorder its priorities.  

Successful leaders live according to the Law of Priorities.  They recognize that activity is not necessarily accomplishment.  But the best leaders seem to be able to get the Law of Priorities to work for them by satisfying multiple priorities with each activity.  This actually enables them to increase their focus while reducing their number of actions.  

John Wooden, the former head basketball coach of the UCLA Bruins, was a leader who mastered the Law of Priorities.  Evidence of his ability was the way he approached practice.  


Wooden orchestrated ever moment of practice and planned each activity with specific purposes in mind.  Every year, he also determined a list of overall priorities for the team, based on observations from the previous season.  Those items might include objectives such as, “Build confidence in Drollinger and Irgovich,” or “Use 3 on 2 continuity drill at least three times a week.”

Wooden always maintained his focus, and he found ways for his players to do the same thing.  His special talent was for addressing several priority areas at once.  Instead of just marking time for drills, he instituted a free-throw shooting policy during scrimmages that would encourage them to concentrate and improve.  The sooner a sidelined player made a set number of shots, the sooner he could get back into the action.  

Wooden also focused on getting his players to reach their potential.  And he addressed those things through practice and personal interactions with the players.  His desire was to get each person to play to his potential and to put the best possible team on the floor.  His results were incredible.  In more than forty years of coaching, he had only one losing season - his first.  And he led his UCLA teams to four undefeated seasons and a record ten NCAA championships.  No other college team has ever come close.  Wooden is a great leader because he lived every day by the Law of Priorities.  


One of the most effective leaders today when it comes to the Law of Priorities was Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric.  When Welch assumed leadership of GE in 1981, it was a good company.  It had a ninety-year history, the company stock traded at $4 per share, and the company was worth $12 billion (eleventh best on the stock market).  It was a huge, diverse company that included 350 strategic businesses.  But Welch believed the company could become better.  

Within a few months of taking over the company, he began what he called the hardware revolution which changed the focus of the company.  Welch pivoted the company by applying a single criterion - can they be number 1 or number 2 at whatever they do in the world marketplace?  Of the 350 businesses or product lines that could, each were closed or divested.  These transactions brought in almost $10 billion and the company invested $18 billion in the ones that remained and further strengthened them with $17 billion in acquisitions.  By 1989, the company had 14 world-class businesses…each either first or second in the world market in which it participates.  

After taking over, GE’s stock experienced a 2 to 1 split four times.  And it traded at $80 per share with a market capitalization of more than $250 billion.  Welch never mistook activity for accomplishment.  He knew that the greatest success comes only when you focus your people on what really matters.  

Take some time to reassess your leadership priorities.  Like GE in in the 80’s, are you spread all over the place?  Or are you focused on the few things that bring the highest reward?  If you aren’t living by the Law of Priorities, you might be spinning your wheels.  

Here is a link to obtain this wonderful read. https://www.amazon.com/21-Irrefutable-Laws-Leadership-Anniversary/dp/0785288376

I hope this book provides you with guidance along your journey.