I was interviewing a senior executive to prepare for an offsite planning retreat and I asked about the biggest challenges facing the leadership team. He wearily replied it was their unfocused frantic pace of activity. “We have lots of projects, goals, and priorities. We’re constantly making lists and setting action plans. But we seldom see anything through to completion before some urgent new priority is pushed at us. Our leader’s thinking seems to be ‘random brain impulse.’ He’s like a nervous water bug that flits from one half-baked strategy to another.”
Sounding familiar? Time’s a scarce and critical issue in these crazy-busy days of disruptive change. With overwhelming emails, texts, and meetings it’s become way too easy to succumb to the tyranny of the urgent. We’re sucked into the black hole of trivia and fritter away bits of our days on minor issues.
Recently, Nancy MacKay, founder and president of MacKay CEO Forums, interviewed me for a podcast on “The Strategic Use of CEO Time.” I’ve led discussions on leadership and culture development with a few MacKay CEO Forums. This fast-growing organization has dozens of peer-to-peer Forums across Canada to help leaders accelerate their development. Our discussion focused on how CEOs can leverage their time, but it applies as well to the senior leadership team.
Click on “The Strategic Use of CEO Time” to listen to our 25-minute conversation. Here’s a bulleted summary of what we discussed:
Q: Why is the strategic use of CEO time so critical in an Exponential Change world?
- Time and money are the only resources you have to invest. How leaders use that time ripples out to how the organization invests its time
- It’s too easy to be reactive and have time controlled by others — e.g. e-mails and meetings
- Effective leaders pull the strategic levers that catapult their organization forward — how he/she set priorities and uses time is central to that
Q: What top 3 tips do you have for CEOs?
1. Avoid The Acceleration Trap
- Speeding up rather than being more strategic
- Piling on and overloading — not making tough choices and taking things off the list
- E-mail and meeting overload can drive us to be highly reactive and not strategic
- Discipline of Stop Doing lists — what will we take out to make room for that new project/initiative?
- Need for more involvement/input in stop/removing less important (e.g. one executive asked for “What are the dumbest things we do?)
- Needs an open and trusting environment
2. Build Culture and Organization Capacity
- Unleveraged leaders often end up in firing fighting/crisis management because the organization can’t move forward at the speed it needs to
- Develop a few clear objectives and priorities
- Follow-through and discipline is vital
- Investing time and energy in building the “soft skills” — studies show that high-performing organizations invest much more here than most others
3. Strengthen Executive Team Effectiveness
- Look at the team collectively and individually to leverage strengths and counterbalance weakness
- Individual development and growth
- Improve executive team performance through:
- 360 tools using a strengths-based approach to help everyone play to their strengths
- Not making well-rounded players but a well-rounded team
- Strengths Finder and VIA Survey are self-assessment tools that identify traits and values. 360 strengths-based tool is how others see us as a leader and how we can leverage our strengths
Q: What is the biggest mistake that CEOs make?
- Not building a transparent and feedback-rich culture:
- Not seeking unfiltered feedback on his/her leadership behaviors
- Depends on the environment we’re building for openness and transparency — courageous conversations must be encouraged and led by leaders to identify key issues and get the moose-on-the-table
- Encouraging or rewarding people who speak up and not seeing this as insubordination or resistance
Q: What advice do you have for CEOs on how to help their direct reports?
- Learn the skills of coaching and developing — know the difference between training, mentoring, and coaching (developing and bringing out the best in others)
- Understand when situations/executives need directing, collaborating, or laissez-faire leadership — increasing the tool kits for deeper coaching skills
- Leverage individual and team strengths
Many of these points — and others — are covered in our self-assessment on leveraging leadership. We often use it during Leadership Team Retreats for learning, awareness, and fostering deeper conversations and team/organization development. Click on Strategic Use of Time Assessment to review how you and your team are leveraging or losing your time.
Time is the stuff life — and leadership — are made of.
Other Resources (that could be worth your time):
- “Stop Wasting Valuable Time” (Harvard Business Review classic article)
- “7 Deadly Time Traps for Leaders“
- “Overcoming the 7 Deadly Time Traps for Leaders“
- “Executive Team Building and Culture Development” (webinar)
- “Essential Building Blocks for Leadership, Coaching, and Culture Development” (webinar)