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Seven Elements of Essentialist Leadership in 2020

Christopher Clark . July 29, 2020

We at Edison promised to find seven pieces of advice that would be helpful to you as part of our Summer Seven Series.  To that end, I recently re-read a book called Essentialism by Greg McKeown, published back in 2014.  A good, quick read, the book claims that “essentialism” is the disciplined pursuit of less. By eliminating everything that is not absolutely essential, one can make the highest contribution toward things that really matter.  This idea inspired me to think about how essentialism applies to you as an operator amid a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment.

McKeown’s seven elements of business excellence distinguish between the non-essentialist operator and the essentialist leader.  In his view, good leadership is characterized by mind-set, talent, strategy, empowerment, communication, accountability, and results.  McKeown’s chart, published as an appendix to his book, is depicted below:

Essentialist Book Table-1

McKeown, Greg. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Penguin Random House, 2014, p. 242.


As you can infer from the chart, an essentialist leader actually spends significant time thinking, debating, questioning, and exploring options, much more time than the non-essentialist leader spends. The most profound sentence in the book to me was, “The purpose of exploration is to discern the vital few from the trivial many.” On what “vital few” can you focus your time and attention this summer? I have a preliminary list of essential elements for attention during Pandemic Summer 2020:

Edison Version Picture

The Most Essential in 2020: Know Your Advantage

I wrote in our last note about the core tenets of collective intelligence and the continuous learning of a perpetual beta organization. The iterative process unlocks perhaps the most essential thing for all of us as we grapple with the confusion, uncertainty, and unforeseen positive developments occurring during 2020: know your advantage. This summer, ask every employee this question and demand proof for their choice. My guess is you will uncover insights to unlock or validate your “vital few” that serves you well through 2021.


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