Stay away from priority overloadI once sat through a frantic, high-energy presentation by an author on knowledge management. He deluged us with a flood of statistics showing how the world’s knowledge was growing at mind-blowing rates. The gist of his presentation was that we need to re-train our brains to absorb more information at faster rates so we could cram more stuff in our craniums.

Beware of this lethal speed trap! He’s peddling dangerous advice leading to high stress, reduced effectiveness, and exhaustion. In these times of light-speed change, we must get off the ever-accelerating treadmill before we burn out — or burst a blood vessel! We need to step back to step ahead. We need to slow down to increase our speed.

I flashed back to Mr. Speedster this week as we created a 90 second video clip for our public workshops. We focused on the “I am too busy” explanation leaders often give for not investing time in their development. Far too often they’re running faster and faster just to keep up. As the Red Queen said to Alice in Through the Looking Glass, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” We had fun running a video clip of a leader multi-tasking  as he ran flat out on a treadmill with “Flight of the Bumblebee” playing in the background and me narrating at break neck (nearly break voice) speed!

In his book, Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap, psychiatrist Edward Hallowell, warns,

“you can feel like a tin can surrounded by a circle of a hundred powerful magnets. Pulled at once in every direction, you go nowhere but instead spin faster and faster on your axis. In part, many people are excessively busy because they allow themselves to respond to every magnet: tracking too much data, processing too much information, answering to too many people, taking on too many tasks-all out of a sense that this is the way they must live in order to keep up and stay in control. But it’s the magnets that have the control.”

This is the harried flight of the bumbling leader. Based on five years of research studying 500 managers, Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal, published their conclusions in a Harvard Business Review article, “Beware the Busy Manager;” “Fully 90% of managers squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities… the smallest proportion of managers we studied — around 10% — were both highly energetic and highly focused. Not only do such managers put in more effort than their counterparts, but they also achieve critical, long-term goals more often… spend their time in a committed, purposeful, and reflective manner.”

In 1891, the Anglo-Irish playwright and author, Oscar Wilde, wrote, “We live in the age of the overworked, and the under-educated; the age in which people are so industrious that they become absolutely stupid.” Over 100 years later, as leadership and coaching effectiveness gaps widen, the treadmill of industrious stupidity is speeding up. What’s that catchy tune playing in the background? And how did that bee get in here?

In today’s frenzied world, it’s way too easy to fall into the trap of confusing busyness with effectiveness. That proverbial woodcutter who’s too busy chopping trees to stop and sharpen his ax, reminds leaders to keep sharpening their skills. There’s a much better flight path to higher results than increasing our speed.

As a road sign on a winding mountain highway warned, “Slow Down or Die.”

Take a short time out — a couple of days — to focus development on using your leadership strengths, passion, and organizational needs to leverage your effectiveness.