When you hear the word priority, what comes to mind? Is it the next item on your to-do list? Is it that emergency your boss just dumped on your desk? Or something that guides you and gives you clarity? 

Flip open your trusty dictionary—or tap open the app—and you’ll see this definition: something that you do or deal with first because it is more important or urgent than other things.

How about when you pluralize the word and make it priorities? Businesses love to talk about their top priorities. But can you even have multiple priorities? How do you know which one thing to focus on or tackle first? 

If you aren’t clear on your priorities, you’ll bounce from fire to fire, getting sucked into the urgent, but not truly important, tasks. When that happens, you won’t be able to lead yourself well. You won’t be able to take charge of your career. 

And you can just forget about leading others well. Understanding your priorities—personally and professionally—is that important. 

Priorities show you how getting clear on your personal and professional goals gives you the gift of clarity as a leader. And setting the right priorities for your team positions them to win. 

Far too many people settle for busyness, not progress. They are moving, but towards what destination, and for what purpose? 

Your Leadership Purpose 

Imagine climbing your whole life, finally getting to the top, and realizing—oh, shoot, I climbed the wrong ladder! You look out from the top, ready to be ecstatic, but instead, all you feel is let down. All the work you put in feels wasted, and you aren’t sure where to go next. 

It’s what happens when you haven’t clearly defined your priorities. You start climbing whatever ladder is nearby just because it’s there. When you don’t take ownership of your career and your leadership, any movement seems like good movement. 

And trust me, there will be plenty of people who think they know where you should go and how you should get there. They won’t be shy about telling you—especially if you are a woman or a minority.

Working hard is important, but if you get into an endless loop of working hard for things that don’t really matter to you, you’ll quickly become unhappy. 

The Other Danger

There’s another danger that can be just as frustrating: wrongly defined priorities. As Stephen R. Covey said, “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”

When things start going in the wrong direction, it’s a slippery slope. It doesn’t take long to affect every part of your life. Have you felt that way? 

At some point in your career, you’re probably going to find yourself in a place that you didn’t want to be. When you feel like this, life feels like an endless loop of frustration. No matter how fast you run, you’re no closer to your goals. You’re not happy with yourself. You’re not happy with the people you work with. 

When you are clear on your priorities, you can make your problems line up for you. You can stop doing more things and start doing the right things. You can stop being busy and start being productive.

As a leader, you determine your priorities. Then you lead by example for your team. 

Give yourself the gift of clarity by defining your priorities, and you save yourself years of heartache and stress. And then, when you reach the top of your climb, the ladder will indeed be leaning on the right building, and the view will be incredible.  

Working hard is important, but if you get into an endless loop of working hard for things that don’t really matter to you, you’ll quickly become unhappy. Here’s how to avoid letting that happen!

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