Lead From Your Highest and Best Use

When was the last time you thought about your HBU (highest and best use)?

Lead From Your Highest and Best Use

Lead From Your Highest and Best Use

When was the last time you thought about your HBU (highest and best use)?

Leaders have had some big ups and downs lately! I've been hearing about both sides from clients for a while: the sweet feeling of having led well through recent turmoil, alongside the more bitter one of feeling deeply overwhelmed and exhausted. The last two years have surely challenged leaders at all levels.

If we're honest, though, this pandemic has exacerbated many of the typical leadership dilemmas, including figuring out how to ‘get it all done’ without burning oneself out. Leaders wonder -- do I have a time management problem? A stress management one? Am I too distractible? It's good to double-check your skills. But in my experience, there is a bigger problem: lack of clarity. Leaders forget to lead from their HBU -- their highest and best use.

My longtime colleague, Andy Birol, first introduced me to this idea. Andy recently retired after successfully advising private and family business owners on how to attain profitable growth, and "highest and best use" was how he helped open their eyes. I later learned the term comes from the real estate world, where it defines how to value a property[1]. When applied to leadership, though, it conjures the highest value contributions the leader can make at any given time and place in their company's life.

Common Leadership Mindset Traps

There are a few entrepreneurial leaders who intuitively grasp this. They avoid these common leadership mindset traps:

  • I can do it faster/better myself
  • I’ll do it tonight instead of burdening someone else
  • It’ll take less time to do it myself than to teach someone else how to do it and monitor their outcomes

If you’ve ever had these thoughts, don't worry! You aren’t alone. However, this can only work if you can bend the time-space continuum to generate unlimited time and energy!

And even if you could do it all, you shouldn’t. Why rob your team of the challenge, growth, and learning they would gain from taking on more responsibility? Why sacrifice the opportunity to model how to lead through accountability?

In the last 5 years, I’ve worked with more CEOs than you would believe who struggle with this dilemma, and every one of them reports their executive team "underperforms" in their eyes.

The Three Keys to HBU Leadership

So, how do you lead from your highest and best use?

  1. You identify those things which contribute the greatest value to your organization AND which only you can do. Sometimes these things are defined by your role. If you’re CEO, you probably should raise the money, shape the culture, and guide the strategic decisions.
  2. You delegate everything else to your leadership team members. If someone else can do it, even if not quite as well, you shouldn’t spend your time on it. If you’re the CTO, you probably shouldn’t write much code. You certainly should endorse the technology roadmap and understand the QC methods, but should you develop them? If you say "yes," you better have a solid reason why.
  3. You manage through accountability. This doesn’t mean doling out praise and punishment. At its simplest, it means you ensure that each person / team has clear goals, and a way to measure outcomes; that they get regular feedback that demonstrates progress (both data and verbal feedback); and that all your leaders (starting with you) can effectively coach their team members for development.  

When was the last time you thought about your highest and best use, even by another name? Or looked through your calendar and reflected on whether you’re investing your time wisely? If it’s been awhile, could you block off 30 minutes to do that this week?

When you are leading from your highest and best use, you aren’t in meetings all day. You don’t have to do all your "important projects" after the rest of the team has logged off for the night. And you spend much of your time coaching and developing others. When you lead by example, narrowing what you do to the most critical things that only you can do, you are showing others how to do the same. This strengthens your leadership team, their teams, and your whole organization.