On Leadership... Taking the Time to Shine

Written by Jo Burnett on .


It never fails to amaze me, in coaching sessions with leaders and managers, just how much expertise, skill and talent people have. They shine with sheer brilliance. Sometimes, though, they need help to see their own shine. Their vision of themselves can be clouded by any combination of the following: exhaustion; over-work; difficult demands and diaries; blind dedication; lack of sleep; organisational politics; unhelpful systems and processes; pressure/stress; and a general self-propelled striving for excellence or perfection.  

The thing common to all the people in leadership roles that I meet is their desire to have more time to develop themselves. More time for thinking, for strategy, for reading, for understanding the wider context, for planning, for being inspired, for reflection and review.  Yet it is this use of time that usually doesn’t get entered into diaries, and if it does, is one of the first to give way to a more needy and immediate priority. Research, articles and books on leadership all agree that this type of time is crucial for effectiveness, confidence and leadership development. If we want to do the best job we can, we need to nurture ourselves along the way. Sometimes this means slowing down and literally, taking time, even (and especially) when we feel like we have no time to spare.

So how can leaders under all these different pressures take more time to work on themselves and get their heads into a space that allows them to perform at least effectively if not at their best? There are no easy answers to this. The systems we work within are often out of our sphere of control or direct influence. We can see their failings and understand their limitations and yet we still have to give them time and energy. However, there are things that can be done to help us avoid what we might call “distractions” (both operational and political) and to find the time to do what’s important:

  • Ask yourself the question each morning/week/month, before you start, “What are the tasks that have to be done today that are vital to success and that only I can do?” Do those first.
  • Routines can help with operational matters – create them where you can. And delegate to others the operational bits you don’t need to do yourself. And then accept their way of doing it.
  • Expect surprises and create routines/systems for dealing with them.
  • Scheduling your priorities and binding yourself to them is important – tell people what you’re going to be doing – it helps bind you to it.
  • Create times when you’re accessible to others, but do it without an open door policy – your time is as important as anyone else’s. Schedule your accessibility and let everyone know.
  • Reduce the number and length of unhelpful meetings you attend: show your face only when there’s something on the agenda for you; attend one out of every three of meetings that don’t do anything for you or your service; show your face if you absolutely have to and leave early so you can say you attended.
  • Schedule preparation, travel and action time before and after meetings. Enter these in your diary next to the meeting entry. Keep them sacrosanct. Be realistic about how much time you have and say no when you don’t have the time to slot in a meeting – organise it for the future when you do.
  • Choose what gets your attention: if there is a request from above, ask yourself, “What will happen if I/we don’t respond or don’t respond till later?” Ask yourself, “What out of all these demands really matters?”
  • Do only the paperwork that is necessary – argue your point with those asking you to do more – explain what will happen if you do and if you don’t.
  • Spend time unsubscribing to e-mails you don’t want. Send junk to the junk bin. Set up a response time notification so people know you will eventually respond.
  • When people come to you with problems, ask coaching questions to get them working on a resolution instead of using your time to deal with it … unless you are absolutely the only one who can resolve it …  it’s how they grow and develop and become the people you can trust and delegate to.
  • Schedule regular time for reflection, training, helpful conversations, reading, conferences, thinking, coaching, etc … and stick to it – it helps you grow and develop. It gives you inspiration, ideas and strategies you can use to help manage things better.
  • Absolutely, positively, take a lunch break and use it to nurture yourself – take yourself away to a good place, metaphorically or literally. Eat well. You will perform better afterwards.

A lot of these tips and suggestions come from eminent and successful leaders in a wide range of fields. I can testify to the above list, which is not exhaustive, working. I can testify to being scared about doing some of these things and doing them anyway because I trusted the expertise that gave them to me. And I can testify to nothing bad happening as a result. I can testify to the great feeling of being more in control of my time. I’m not saying these things will make your life simple, but they will make it simpler.

When we take time like this, we get to understand how strong and capable we are. We get to grow in confidence. We get to recognise our talents and strengths and to identify the skills and behaviours we want to develop. We get to perform better and feel better. We get to see glimpses of our own shining brilliance. It’s important that we see it so we can polish it the more and it can shine even brighter and stronger.