When I bought the The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss in 2007, I was captivated by the concept of working just four hours a week. I enjoyed Tim’s writing style and I started to apply some of his philosophies to my work life (although I never did achieve a four-hour work week.) A few years later, I heard Tim was writing a follow-up called The 4-Hour Body, which at first struck me as a very odd sequel. Then it hit me that his work was really about rapid learning and how to achieve the greatest results with the least amount of effort. Tim was simply applying the same principles he’d used in decoding work place efficiency to diet and exercise. It turns out that these principles can be applied in many disciplines, if you know precisely what needs to be done and the most efficient way to do it.

I interviewed Tim Ferriss about the principles behind his “4 Hour” series. In order to break down the task to be accomplished to its essence, Tim uses a process of Deconstruction, Selection and Sequencing. Here is how I’ve applied similar principles in my work with leaders.

Deconstruction breaks a complex process or practice in to discreet parts or tasks. For instance, in research for the article I coauthored here in HBR, Making Yourself Indispensable, over 20,000 leaders were analyzed using 360-degree feedback data on dozens of leadership competencies. The goal was to determine which leadership characteristics most often separated excellent leaders from their average and poor counterparts, and 16 competencies emerged from our process of deconstructing great leadership.

Selection is about isolating the most impactful of these essential characteristics to focus on the critical few versus the (more) trivial many. It’s the Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule. When I coauthored the book, The Inspiring Leader, I was able to do additional research to delve deeper and understand which of those 16 key competencies was most valuable and had the greatest impact on the people they lead. In medicine it’s sometimes called the minimal effective dose, (MED). In pharmacological terms it is the lowest dose level of a pharmaceutical product that provides a clinically significant response, beyond which dosing is wasteful, or even harmful.

Finally, Sequencing allows you to test theories in different circumstances and make adjustments based on the results, to ultimately put them in logical order. In other words, to create an optimal progression. I’ve had the chance to apply my research as I’ve coached hundreds of leaders with varied styles in developing these competencies in diverse situations.

Tim is an investor and/or advisor to Uber, Facebook, Twitter, and Evernote, so I asked him about applying these principles to what he referred to as the “somewhat-nebulous area of leadership”. I took some of our conversation, combined it with my own findings, and below is what I’ll refer to with Tim’s permission as The 4-Hour Leader.

Leaders are bombarded with suggestions for improved leadership, and many of the articles, books and lectures on the subject offer ideas that may be helpful on some level. I know from my work with thousands of senior leaders that when you start to identify leadership characteristics, you will have a hard time finding one that you’d say isn’t somehow valuable or useful. But if you want the MED, then throw away those voluminous leadership development plans (that you aren’t following anyway) because here it is, The Four-Hour Leader.

1. Express a clear definition of success for your team, business unit, or company. Don’t equivocate about what you expect the team to accomplish and what the priorities are. This doesn’t mean verbose vision statements, but a well-defined and articulated objective and a few specific and measurable goals that you can communicate in a minute or two. The discipline of focusing on one unambiguous purpose (or Key Performance Indicators, also called “KPIs”) will enable you drive for those results and maintain focus, while avoiding deviation from the course and the distraction of “shiny objects”. We don’t know yet if A.G. Laffley’s plan to shed half of P&G’s brands is a good idea, but there is no question about the focus and direction of the entire company.

2. If you want buy in, then as the leader you have to sell. And be able to sell to a wide range of stakeholders, from board members and investors, to senior managers and front line employees to generate individual and group commitment to your direction. Leaders need people to buy in to your larger vision and be excited about their specific role in contributing to it. Change management guru John Kotter identified this as a vital component for leaders to gain the support needed for their ideas to achieve valuable results.

Ann Mulcahy, who led Xerox from the brink of bankruptcy has said that a good plan is important “But the bottom line is that it’s all about getting your people aligned around a common set of objectives. At Xerox, that was the difference between success and failure.

Leaders sell their ideas about the future by making an emotional connection, because while logic will get people thinking, it is emotion that will ignite passion and spur them to action. In my work studying how leaders inspire, statistically, the number one attribute of leaders who excel in motivating others is the ability to harness the power of emotions to move people to action. Enthusiasm, passion, caring, concern, and even anger have a strong impact on people and can be expressed in myriad ways.

Think about leaders you’ve observed. From Richard Branson to Herb Kelleher to Indra Nooyi. When they talk to people from small groups to large audiences, they are expressing emotions and it is anything but simply conveying the facts. They are excited about achieving great things, or concerned about the consequences of not taking action. They create a sense of deep commitment.

3. Demonstrate your integrity and make it visible. One of my clients recently delivered a restatement of earnings to Wall Street. That restatement could have been avoided because cash reserves were considerably higher than what was needed to deal with the change. The CEO took the position that it was necessary to disclose this difference in earnings, despite the attention and cost of doing so, because it was simply the right thing to do. When communicated to shareholders and employees, a sense of pride and belief in the future of the business was obvious because “this is the kind of company we work for…a company that does the right thing.” When I ask people about important leadership characteristics, an interesting thing happens on the topic of integrity (or character, honesty, etc.) They tend to rank it first, or they don’t mention it at all. Through discussions, I’ve concluded it means the same thing, which is that it is fundamental to leadership. As I highlight in my new book The Hidden Leader, it is viewed as the primary trait, or it is table stakes to even have the chance to lead. Either way, integrity is vital to leadership success.

That’s your MED for leadership and the prescription for accelerating your leadership ability: toss all the leadership competencies in a pot and they boil down to this. Many of the leaders I work with have a sense of massive overload, so Tim’s technique of narrowing one’s focus to a few things that make a huge difference is very appealing. The best part is that you can do each of these three things without much, if any, additive time. In fact, I bet you can do it in less than four hours per week.

Edinger Consulting