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Strategic Neglect


We’re finishing up the first month of a new year. It’s a good time to ask, How are we doing? Busy? Even busier than last year? Are we willing to admit that this busyness does not necessarily equal effectiveness, success, accomplishment, or satisfaction? One way of describing the challenge of effective leadership and service is in the contrast between doing things right or doing the right things.

Life can be filled with strivings and searchings, yearnings and yieldings without accomplishing the purposes and priorities to which we have been called…i.e., the right things.

A classic U2 song, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, describes many of us with the words, “I have climbed highest mountains… I have run through fields… I have run, I have crawled. I have scaled the city walls… I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

Now is a good time to identify the areas of greatest importance and go after them, even to the neglect of other priorities.

John Maxwell tells the story of a young concert violinist. “She was asked the secret to her success. She replied, ’Planned neglect.’ Then she explained, ‘When I was in music school, there were many things that demanded my time. When I went to my room after breakfast, I made my bed, straightened the room, dusted the floor, and did whatever else came to my attention. Then I hurried to my violin practice. I found I wasn’t progressing as I thought I should, so I reversed things. Until my practice period was completed, I deliberately neglected everything else. That program of planned neglect, I believe, accounts for my success’” (Developing the Leader Within You, 1993, pp. 28-29).

During a current interview with Leadership Journal, Bill Hybels said, “Get that laser focus on exactly what God wants you to do, then travel lightly, and strategically neglect things you aren’t called to do. You’ll feel less rushed, and you’ll slowly lose that chronic anxiety that you left something undone. Leaving some stuff undone is a sign that probably you’re properly focused.” Hybels has made similar statements in the book, Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul (2014).

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