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. 

Barnevik on Leadership: Getting the Most out of your Team

Do you want to be a better leader?  Sign up for my free newsletter.

I was a 32-year-old engineering manager with virtually no manufacturing experience, but that didn’t matter. The company needed a strong leader to take over one of the key manufacturing operations in the division and, because I had demonstrated the ability to get things done, I was asked to lead this business. This was the culture that Percy Barnevik created.

My first job after serving in the U.S. Navy was working for the global engineering company, ABB. Our CEO at the time was the legendary, hard-charging Swede, Percy Barnevik. In 1988, Barnevik created ABB by pulling off the largest European merger at the time, bringing together two engineering powerhouses, ASEA and Brown Boveri Ltd.

What I loved about Barnevik was his bias towards action. He got things done. He was decisive and he expected the same from his employees. The company culture at that time reflected his personality. We moved fast and we fixed it along the way. He knew how to bring out the best of his employees by challenging them to do more.

“Leadership Is the ability to get extraordinary achievement from ordinary people” – Brian Tracy

Barnevik believed in getting the most out of his teams. He created a culture where we challenged each other to do the impossible. It was a company where the status quo was constantly challenged and we worked hard to create new levels of performance.

He understood the most important role of a leader is to set expectations and Barnevik kept his standards very high. He expected strong performance but he also knew that he had to create an environment where employees could take chances and try out new methods and techniques to improve the business.

Here are four things Barnevik did to get the most out of his teams:

Challenging assignments. Barnevik thought good people should be challenged. It was not uncommon for strong performing employees to be placed in high profile assignments which were far beyond their proven abilities. This allowed employees to have the opportunity to showcase their skills and provided management with a way to quickly evaluate talent.

Professional development. Barnevik believed in giving employees opportunities to grow professionally. In my time working for him, I attended countless domestic and international training sessions which exposed me to new ideas and helped me further develop my leadership skills.

A forgiving culture. Barnevik pushed decision making to the lowest level and embedded a culture of decisiveness at all levels. He created a culture of speed, decisiveness and forgiveness. If you made a bad decision, it was not the end of your career. You were expected to fix it and move on. This allowed leaders to try new ideas to improve performance without the constant fear of being fired.

Recognition for high achievement. Barnevik also understood that excellence should be recognized. He had countless programs to acknowledge significant achievement throughout the organization. This created positive feedback for high performing employees and generated internal competition which continued to boost performance.

“Good leaders boost the achievement of everybody, bad leaders can have the opposite effect.” – Percy Barnevik

I was fortunate to serve under Percy Barnevik during his time at ABB. Because of the culture he created, I was given the opportunity to lead a manufacturing operation at a young age. The company continued to invest in me and I grew as a business leader. Like many, I thrived in the culture he created where speed, decisiveness and forgiveness were embraced and high achievement was recognized.


 

Read more about Barnevik’s leadership in this rare book written by Percy himself.  This book is hard to find so I purchased a limited supply of these books and only have 4 left. This book is often stocked-out on Amazon and other sites.

Price includes shipping to U.S. customers. Overseas customers, contact me.

 

Percy Barnevik on Leadership (Shipping in U.S. included)

(Paperback – 2014) Percy Barnevik on Leadership is largely based on the author’s own experience gained in different leadership roles over a period of nearly 50 years. The emphasis is on efficient execution. This is, in his view, what mainly differentiates successful leaders and companies from less successful ones. The advice, contained in 200 separate points, covers a wide spectrum ranging from personal efficiency, strategy, handling of crises, company acquisitions to, not least, building successful teams.

$24.99

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.