Our recent leadership survey showed a startling 35% of "leaders" spend the majority of their time on day-to-day tasks and issues.
Are they victims of current world economic crises? Sarbanes-Oxley mandates? I don’t think so. They’re not victims … they’re volunteers. Your attention is your choice, not a mandate.
Let’s think about it. Imagine you’re captaining an ocean-liner. Now let’s say you’re spending your valuable bridge-time facing away from the forward-looking windows and instruments. Instead, you’re doing other “Important” things: maybe you’re on the phone with the engine room, fixing a rivet, or talking to passengers, organizing the current day’s shipboard activities, supply-ordering, and so on.
There you are, fully engaged in “doing” in the present moment. Meantime, a mile ahead is a hazard or a better way to get to your destination. If only you hadn’t distracted yourself with the needs of the moment!
I’ll bet you’d agree that spending the majority of your energy this way would make you a very poor captain indeed. Of course you’re better off delegating those present-day tasks to others and keeping your eyes firmly facing forward – on the way forward.
Yes, optimal leadership has a time-frame, and it’s the near future. The highest-achieving leaders spend the majority of their time caring for the immediate future, while keeping a solid grasp on the present. I added that bit about the present because there are times when events force one to zoom in on today.
Empirically and based on that 35% finding, too many leaders spend their time on today’s crises and challenges. The question for you is whether most days are like that, or not? If so, then you are leading like a manager.
The key operating question driving the manager should be “What needs doing right now?” For leaders, the more productive question is: “How can I give these present-day tasks to others so I can focus the majority of my time on achieving my vision, executing a continuously-improving strategy, and removing upcoming obstacles?”
If you’re dubious about this, try a simple and excellent exercise I learned from Kim Krisco’s outstanding (and hard to find) book “Leadership and the Art of Communication”: the next time you are in an unproductive conversation about business results, a project, or a meeting that is not working, listen for (and count up) how many of the questions and statements being made are about the past, the present, and the future. The more unproductive the conversation or meeting, you will find, the more statements are related to the past or present.
Next, break the pattern by moving the conversation to the future with a simple statement like "Let's look ahead for a moment," and lead a discussion about goals and means to get them done.