Big Rock Thinking and Action More Important Than Ever

Without applying successful habits and tools like Stephen Covey’s 4 Quadrants it’s easy for leaders to be taken over dealing with urgent and important business matters especially this year with the pandemic.

As a team leader you may relate to this famous quote from US President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, 1954

In a later address he added: “especially whenever our affairs seem to be in crisis, we are almost compelled to give our first attention to the urgent present rather than to the important future.” (1961 address to the Century Association).  

Businesses and the teams within them are pivoting as we have been thrust into unanticipated disruption, change, and ambiguity. In his book ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, there has been much written about Stephen Covey’s 4 quadrants/matrix of how leaders, teams and individuals should spend their time.

Image Source: Franklin Covey – The Ultimate Competitive Advantage

The 4 Quadrants: Where Should Leaders Spend Their Time?

Effective leaders spend more time in Q2 (important not urgent) and minimize the time they spend in Q1 (important urgent), while delegating or not worrying about Q3 (not important urgent) or Q4 (not important not urgent). With the COVID-19 crisis and recovery, it is easy for leaders to be sucked into the Q1 urgent and important matters.

The key is knowing which of the 4 quadrants you are spending your time and which one you should be.

In addition to business urgency, we are seemingly more aware than ever of the important and urgent state of our collective well-being. Stress of the uncertain future both physically and financially, and time spent on urgent and important matters takes its toll on our collective mental well-being.

There are many tips and mental health guides recently available to help us cope with mental health aspects of this crisis. The pressure mounting on our well-being is a signal to us that good leadership cannot and does not spend all of its energy in the urgent and important.

As mental/emotional well-being is always important (but sometimes not urgent), those companies and leaders who did not prioritize employee well-being and strong relationships pre COVID-19 and during the first few months of the pandemic, might now be finding employee well-being to be in the urgent and important category instead of just important.

All the more reason to pay attention to what is important and not urgent, before it becomes urgent.

Important and not urgent are as Covey refers to as habit 3, ‘put first things first’. Another way to say it is to make sure the big rocks are in the jar first.

If you leave important and not urgent matters to the end and fill the jar with urgent matters (smaller rocks, pebbles, and sand), you will never fit the big rocks in.


TRAIN YOUR TEAM: Experience virtual team programs that enhance fun, connection, communication, and healthy team culture. More here.


Putting the Big Rocks in the 4 Quadrants Jar First

What are the big rocks? Covey has been quoted to say,

“putting first things first means organizing and executing around your most important priorities. It is living and being driven by the principles you value most, not by the agendas and forces surrounding you”.

Important long-term strategy goals that align with your corporate values, team culture, leadership development of your people, and building and maintaining strong team relationships all fall into the important and not urgent category.

Being able to maintain these important functions when the demands are pulling towards the urgent sends a message to our teams that when crisis hits…you care about the team and are maintaining a wide perspective.

When leaders can maintain the ability to think about the future and not be entirely in a reactive urgent state, it creates a feeling of safety and a solid team foundation to weather the storms together.

As the urgent and important calls for our attention and quite naturally narrows our focus and reduces our options, the important and yet not urgent matters take a back seat.

To regain a wider perspective, leaders can consciously try as soon as possible to lead from the important and not urgent quadrant.

As leaders we can prioritize ‘big rocks’ using tools like the 4 quadrants and by planning time for learning, team development and strong relationships within our teams.


RELATED: Professional Development: The Definitive Guide | The Circle of Influence Model: A Pro-Active Tool for Anxious Times


We’re Here to Help

At Summit, even though we haven’t been able to be with teams in person for a while due to public health restrictions, we are able to support teams virtually with various team and leadership development modules and a few of our team building programs.

If you just want to plan to have a fun break with your team and contribute to the care of your team’s well-being or grow the self and team awareness and capacity, we’re here to support you!

We look forward to being in person again as soon as it is safe to do so, but want to support your leadership spending as much time as possible with the important and big rock priorities especially now to help you maintain as wide a lens as possible. Contact us to learn more.