Too Busy to Lead?

“The managers of this company just don’t care.” That was the feedback I received from one of the production workers and I was trying to process it. I had worked hard with my leadership team to get them to engage with employees. I couldn’t understand why we weren’t seeing better results.

The feedback had come during my monthly roundtable meeting. Each month, I met with a different group of employees to get their thoughts on how the business was going. They were called “birthday meetings.” Employees who had a birthday in that month were invited. I was the plant manager of a small manufacturing operation with 130 employees.  Each meeting had about 10-15 employees. This month’s feedback was hard to swallow.

I pushed for more details. I wanted to understand why this employee thought our managers didn’t care. He talked specifically about one of the managers, “every time I see him, his head is down or he is rushing to another meeting.” The person he was talking about was my best manager. He cared deeply for his team and the factory overall. He was a good leader. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“Often he who does too much does too little.” – Italian Proverb

Later that day, I spoke to that manager. I wanted to get his perspective and what he said was equally eye-opening. He told me that he is very busy. So busy, in fact, that he keeps his head down when walking through the plant. He told me, “I don’t want to get distracted or get pulled into a long conversation. I have a lot to do and I want to get it all done.” To my surprise, I realized that my leadership team was so busy, they didn’t have time to lead.

“I’m busy, busy, dreadfully busy. You’ve no idea what I have to do. Busy, busy, shockingly busy. Much, much too busy for you.” – Veggie Tales

This happens far too often in organizations. Leaders with good intentions take on far too many activities. They fail to properly delegate tasks and, in the end, they fail to lead their teams properly. They are too busy and employees feel like they don’t care.

If you feel like you are too busy to lead, step back and conduct this simple exercise:

Track what you do each day. Keep a notebook of your daily activities for a week and see where you are spending your time. In most cases, you will be surprised by the results.

Identify those things that only you can do as a leader. Look through your daily activities and mark those that only you can do. These are critical tasks like planning, directing, evaluating and interacting with employees.

Identify activities that you can delegate. Determine which activities can be delegated. These are actions that can be done by others. They are time-consuming tasks that others are more suited to complete.

Often times we confuse busyness with usefulness or effectiveness. In the case of leaders, being busy can actually be detrimental to our most important role. Leadership is the act of influencing a group of people to accomplish a goal. If we spend all our time completing tasks, we miss out on the important job of influencing. While you are rushing to a meeting or spending all day on e-mails, you are missing out on the opportunity to interact with your team. And worse yet, they think you don’t care.

The simple truth is, when you find ways to stop being so busy, you will become a better leader.

Reach out to me on Twitter and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you.

Do you want to be a better leader?  Sign up for my free leadership newsletter where I share important leadership tips and I don’t waste your time. 

The Secret to Reaching your Goals

The other day, I reached 1,000 workouts tracked on my GymHero app. That’s more than three years consistently going to the gym. I say this not to brag but to point out the importance of being consistent. If you want to be successful at anything, you need to be consistent. If you want to achieve important goals, you need to work at it every day.

It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistently.” – Tony Robbins

One of the best books I have read on this topic is Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done by Jon Acuff.  In it, he talks about the importance of consistency. He also points out that the enemy of consistency is perfectionism. Perfectionism will tell you to quit if you don’t have a perfect day on your diet or you miss a workout. Acuff stresses the secret to hitting our goals is to keep moving forward every day, especially the “day after perfect,” when our results underperform our aspirations.

“The harder you try to be perfect, the less likely you’ll accomplish your goals.” – Jon Acuff

Acuff provides humorous and practical advice on how to beat perfectionism and learn how to make long-lasting change. He tells us that we will be more successful if we simply relax and develop a tolerance for imperfection. If you skip a workout, no problem, just start again tomorrow. If you cheat on a meal, don’t cheat again that day. The key to finishing is to just keep moving forward consistently.

Learning for Leaders: 5 Simple Ways to Embed Learning into your Demanding Schedule

Like most leaders, I’m very busy. My role as the CEO of a start-up manufacturing company requires a great deal of time and effort. I’m at our manufacturing plant for 9-10 hours a day and I commute an hour each way. I also work 2-3 hours at home each day. In total, I spend 13-15 hours working or commuting. During the week, I don’t have a lot of spare time.

I also know that to be an effective leader, I need to continue to learn and grow. I need to expose myself to the latest business books and thoughts on leadership. I need to understand new concepts and think about how they can help my organization and my ability to motivate my team. The problem is that there isn’t a lot of extra time for learning.

To overcome this challenge, I have incorporated some simple techniques to embed learning in my day. These small changes to my schedule have allowed me to be exposed to a variety of leadership and business topics while still keeping up with a demanding schedule.

I have used these 5 techniques for the past few years with great effect.

Keep a commonplace notebook. This is probably the most important change I made in my daily routine. The idea is to keep a simple notebook of all the things you are learning or various ideas you have. The concept of keeping a commonplace notebook comes from the education community. The notebook is used to write down quotes, concepts, thoughts, ideas, books, websites or anything else you come across in the daily activities that you want to remember. This is not a to-do list but a central place to document ideas and important concepts you’re being exposed to. This is a technique that Richard Branson credits to his success as a leader. I use a simple Moleskin notebook for my commonplace book.

“if you don’t write your ideas down, they could leave your head before you even leave the room.” Richard Branson

Listen to books on Audible. Leaders should be readers but finding the quiet time to read a book is often difficult. I use Audible to listen to books while I’m driving or relaxing. For a monthly fee, you get one book a month to listen to. In a year, you can be exposed to 12 top business books without altering your busy schedule. Here are some of the books I have been listening to.

Listen to podcasts. Podcasts are another great way to be exposed to authors and thought-leaders without impacting your calendar. When I’m not listening to books, I will listen to one of twenty different podcasts I subscribe to. I listen to a variety of leadership and business podcasts but I will sometimes explore other unusual and interesting topics as well. 99% Invisible is probably one of my favorite non-business podcasts.

Use Twitter as a learning platform. Social media can be a time killer if used incorrectly but it can also be educational. The key is in how it is used. I use my Twitter account as a learning tool. I follow business leaders, authors, leadership writers, entrepreneurs and business news. In a quick glance of my timeline, I can see what’s happening in the world of leadership and business. I can also interact with people and further develop my thoughts on a subject.

Set up an RSS reader. There is so much written each day on the subject of business and leadership, there is no way to read it all. One tool I like to use is an RSS Reader. These readers make it easy to follow what’s happening on a variety of websites and blogs. In one glance, you can get a summary of articles that you might be interested in. This saves you the time of having to visit each site individually. You can even add my blog to your RSS Reader.

Leadership is demanding and your schedule is not likely to get any easier. Don’t put off increasing your knowledge because you’re busy. These five simple techniques will allow you to embed learning into your daily routine. The most important tool, however, is the commonplace notebook. This is where all your thoughts, ideas and key lessons are written down. Applying the ideas from your commonplace book will make you a more educated and effective leader.