I’ve not got the time to lead

By Ben Morton

Have you ever come back from a leadership conference or course fired up with ideas and inspiration about what you’re going to start doing differently? Me too!

And have you ever found that just five days later reality has smacked you squarely in the face? Me too!

Despite our best intentions all those new ideas get placed firmly on the back-burner because there is so much urgent stuff that needs our attention. It would be great to implement all the ideas we dreamt up or to start using some of the tools we heard about. But the truth is, we just don’t have time.

As a result, we go back to doing what we’ve always done. We just do it a little bit quicker.
When that doesn’t help us get through the to-do list, we work a touch longer and sacrifice just a little bit more time with our loved ones.

It’s also likely that in order to deliver the results we spend less time exercising. We don’t eat as healthily as we should and we stop doing the things that help us unwind and really enjoy life.

It’s a pretty bleak picture! It’s also a story I know all too well, as many years ago this was my story. I was only a few years out of the army, leading a team doing high volume, seasonal recruitment. We were trying to recruit a lot of people from a small pool in a very niche area. To make matters worse, the business had spent years treating these people pretty badly and paying them poorly. We didn’t really have that much going for us.

As I got promoted, I just worked harder, faster and longer. I got in early and stayed late. I emailed relentlessly on my hour-long commute (I took the train…things never got so bad that I emailed whilst driving…although I see people doing that a lot these days in slow moving traffic).

Things eventually got so bad that I regularly found myself feeling physically sick standing in the shower each morning. Then I started getting mild chest pains. I was only 26 years old!

The relentless focus on the numbers and targets caused me to forget much of what I’d learned about leadership in the military. I became so focused on doing stuff and managing things that I almost forgot to be a leader. I was largely leading in my spare time and when I had time. Which of course isn’t leadership at all.

The other interesting thing about this time was that as I got promoted, my job description and daily task list grew significantly. I didn’t suddenly have less stuff to do. I had loads more stuff to do…and the same amount of time to do it all in.

Or so I thought…

Ok. Here’s another interesting question for you.

Have you ever been on a leadership course where they told you what things you should stop doing as you get promoted?

No. Me neither!

But I now realise that’s the key. That’s the answer!

Simply doing more and working longer isn’t the recipe for success as we take on more senior leadership positions. That’s a sure-fire, 100%, cast-iron guarantee for failure, burnout and ill health.

The journey I’ve been on helped me realise that there are essentially three parts to any leader’s job.

Doing things

Managing things

Leading people

These three components form the Leadership Equaliser and if we are to be successful as leaders in delivering the objectives we have, whilst looking after the people we are responsible for, we must pay constant attention to where our dials are.

But we can’t just simultaneously crank every dial up to the maximum. In order to push up our leadership dial, the other dials must get pushed down.

We have to stop doing some stuff, so that we can start doing other stuff. This is how I beat the chest pains and took back control. This is also how I now find the time to implement all that I’m learning from the conferences I attend and the books that I’m reading.

My clients regularly tell me that the Leadership Equaliser is an incredibly helpful tool for shifting their focus from lots of doing and managing, to leading. And when they make this shift they find that they get more done, in less time whilst leading a team that is much more engaged.
Everything that I now do is based on the belief that our job as leaders is to ensure that we deliver the results AND look after the people that we have the responsibility to lead.

I believe that as leaders we should act in such a way that people are inspired to come to work and give their very best. We should also do all that we possibly can to ensure that they go home to their loved ones happy at the end of each day. Every person that we lead is the most important person in someone else’s life. Lead them well.

To help you make a practical change as a result of reading this article I have one simple task for you. Before doing anything else, create your stop doing list. Create a list of things that you can stop doing, so that you can allocate more time to leading.

Ben Morton is a leadership mentor