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.

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