Glass King Chess piece

Eff. Leadership: What is your predisposition?

Take a strategic pause. Think about the title of this article. How did you interpret the abbreviated word…did you even notice or was it automatic? Did you read it as ‘effective’ or ‘efficient’? This simple test just revealed which technique is dominant in your style of leadership. As self-proclaimed innovators, we must delve into our inner propensities for efficiency and effectiveness which ultimately reveals our proclivity for innovation.

At the basic level, the efficiency of an organization is measured in terms of streamlining to attain a predefined goal, how you accomplish a task with minimum expenditure of time and effort. On the other side, effectiveness is measured in terms of actual need or usefulness of your product or result.

These two concepts are not zero-sum nor are they definitively complimentary. How a leader interweaves these concepts or the degree to which they focus on each will ultimately determine success as a leader and organization. Being either an efficient leader or an effective leader may make you a ‘good’ leader, but being a Dynamic Innovative leader who can balance focus in each of these areas to be efficiently effective as a leader and as an organization will define greatness.

Notice the choice of words, of the goal…efficiently effective.

Priority One of leadership and the goal of any organization is to be effective. This means the focus of development, of all efforts, must first be on meeting the predefined goal. Once that is guaranteed, then, and only then, we must turn our attention to accomplishing the task efficiently. To be effective, you need not be efficient…but your competition will capitalize on any shortfall. Our ability to be innovative will make us efficiently effective.

Being either an efficient leader or an effective leader may make you a ‘good’ leader, but being a Dynamic Innovative leader who can balance focus in each of these areas to be efficiently effective as a leader and as an organization will define greatness.

To do this, a dynamic innovative leader focuses on positive change. Simple change is not positive and is the reason phrases like ‘continuous improvement’ become both white-collar buzzwords and blue-collar jokes.  For a change to be positive, it must decrease the time required, increase efficiency, improve structure or increase simplicity. That’s it, simply put. No belt colors, no change coaches, no consulting fees. Every desired or required improvement must meet at least one of these criteria. If it doesn’t, don’t do it.

That is it. The science of everything you need to improve your organization. Now, we all know it is not really that simple or everybody would be successful. The art of successfully employing this simple strategy is to empower each of your team members with the guidelines contained here. …and in the leaders sticking to this rule as well: Don’t change for change sake. If it doesn’t meet one of the Four Rules of Positive Change, don’t do it. Always remember yesterday may have brought you to today, but it most likely will not carry you through tomorrow. Embrace new ideas, new methods and always question the assumptions which define your business model. This focus on positive change will make your organization efficiently effective…and it will make you a dynamic, innovative leader.

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Copyright: gloffs / 123RF Stock Photo

Chris R. Stricklin is a combat-proven leader, mentor and coach integrating the fields of dynamic followership, negotiations, leadership, positive change, public relations, public speaking and complex organizational change. His unique experience as a U.S.A.F. Thunderbird coupled with Pentagon-level management of critical Air Force resources valued at $840B, multiple N.A.T.O. assignments, White House and DARPA fellowships, and command-experience in the United States Air Force allow his unique synthesis of speaking, following, leading, management, negotiations, continuous improvement and positive change. Chris is also a Certified Manager with degrees in Economics, Financial Planning, Strategic Studies and Operational Art and Science. He authored a negotiation primer which was subsequently published and adopted as required Air Force Pentagon new action officer orientation. He and his wife, Terri, have 4 children.

  • Gerald Morris

    Chris, my business card reads, “the efficiency of our minds distorts the effectiveness of our thinking.”. We have become so efficiency minded that we have forgotten that the real improvement comes through increased effectiveness. Our minds become more wired to complete the task(s) as quickly and cost “efficiently” as possible. Often forgetting the effectiveness which with the task must produce. Look at GM, cost efficient, but significantly cost ineffective! We must start to take time to weigh the consequences of our “efficient” actions and make sure the outcome is truly effective.

  • Chris, this is a brilliant post, I’m so glad you shared it here. Ask anyone here at S&S, I am so far over on the effective scale versus efficient, it’s silly. I think efficiency is what kills enterprises, as it squelches agility and the innovation that enables.

    Having said that, I love your framing, that these two traits can – and should – work together in a dynamic partnership, and are not at all zero-sum. You really made me think about my own worldview. Thank you.

  • Ted & Gerald—

    Thanks for your comments and insight on this article. Glad to know it sparked thoughts and reiterated efficiency and effectiveness need not be zero-sum concepts. A successful leader must ensure the effectiveness of their team in an efficient manner…focus on only one of the aspects and any success realized will be extremely short-lived. The true leader balances the efforts of their team to be as efficient as possible in their quest to be effective.

  • M Gehricke

    I’d be interested in how Chris would approach the same subject applied in a non-profit human service organization. I work a day program for adults with physical and intellectual disability where efficiency often trumps effectiveness as administrators constantly struggle with lack of adequate funding and supervisors attempt to provide consistent service and opportunities for engagement to those we serve.

  • Shamik Desai

    Chris … this is very eye opening article for me. I am impressed with the phrase “Efficiently Effective”
    I too have been struggling to be effective and very often at the cost of efficiency!
    Following Four Rules of positive changes, embracing new ideas & methods and questioning the assumptions of my business model are the lessons I re-learn from this article.
    Thank you very much.

  • Tommy101

    After reading your article, I had to check out your credentials which didn’t pass the smell test. Chris did you apply this “efficiently effective” concept during your pilot’s error which caused a Thunderbirds’ F-16 to crash during a September 2004 air show in Idaho. BTW, because of the error, you were reassigned to the Pentagon without completing your two-year stint with the Thunderbirds which you fail to mention in your bio. Also your negotiation primer is for those seeking work and receiving job offers as used by the Air Force not as you purport. And how come your stint as White House Fellow only lasted a month in May 2013. BTW you are not listed as a White House Fellow or Finalist for 2013. Always amazes me that legends in their own mind and inflated egos offer advice.

    • Tommy and Marcus,

      Thanks for taking the time to learn more about my credentials and background.

      Personally, I think anyone can be a leader, regardless of how one might perceive his or her credentials. In fact, one of the biggest leadership lessons in my life, I learned from a small town preacher ( ).

      And of course, I learned a great deal from the Thunderbirds event in 2003; a significant one in my growth as a person and a leader — and one that gave me near-instant clarity on what was important in my life, and not. (For those who do not know the event which Tommy refers to, read about it at )

      After that and as my Air Force career continued, I was extremely fortunate for the experiences of both White House and DARPA fellowships… short term events and not the same as being a “Fellow.” So you can continue to verify my credentials, during my White House time I worked in the Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget.

      Finally, let me say I appreciate your comments about the article itself. I agree that “Too often we get bogged down in the means and lose sight of the end.” As I have just left a tour in Afghanistan, and am looking ahead to my next tour in service of my country in Turkey, I will keep that thought in mind.

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