Finding time to lead

Suzanne Peterson: On Leadership First published in The Arizona Republic and on azcentral.com on November 2, 2013 One thing I notice about great leaders is that — no matter how demanding their schedule and how busy they are — they always appear to have it “all together.” They never appear frazzled or disorganized. They respond to requests quickly, keep appointments, show up on time and are always prepared. Many believe achieving this level of calm and control comes at a cost, including more hours away from home, less time to re-energize or sleep, and certainly less time to work on strategic priorities as technology drags them into 24/7 reactionary mode. Not so. In fact, the best leaders don’t suffer from these problems because they have been coached to manage their time differently. If finding more time to lead is your challenge, then try the following: Make time to be unavailable Great leaders understand that accessibility is different from availability. Accessibility means people can always find you when they need you. This is indeed a positive leadership attribute because people might need you for urgent matters. Availability, on the other hand, means you drop everything to accommodate others, and it is not a prerequisite of great leadership. Instead, great leaders recognize the need to dedicate time each day to be unavailable to virtually every person and every device. They use this period to focus and do their most important work, or to simply think and process. Say “no” more Many leaders incorrectly accept that being invited to meetings when their presence isn’t really necessary is just part of the job. Although they recognize they should say no, they aren’t sure how to do it gracefully. Try these ideas: Rather than simply declining a request, say what you can do instead (e.g., “I can’t attend the meeting, but I’d be happy to send you a few key points offering my perspective”). Alternatively, do some digging before saying yes to a request. Ask for an agenda for the upcoming meeting, or ask what your role in the meeting will be. Finally, ask a member of your team to attend the meeting, but only if for a higher-level reason. The point is: Become more comfortable demanding an understanding of whether your time is being well spent. Managing meetings you do need to attend If it’s your meeting, then run it on time without fail, and don’t spend time catching up people who are late. Do this even when the late-comers are senior to you. They will respect it, and other attendees will appreciate it. Also, make your meetings count. Have a clear goal of what you want to achieve, and hold yourself accountable for achieving it. Use technology differently Although e-mail and other media (e.g., text, instant messaging, social media) may seem efficient in the eyes of the sender, they are often ineffective from the receiver’s point of view. Avoid e-mail volley and focus on making sure e-mails all take less than five minutes to write. Less time on technology devices means more time to really connect with people. In summary, recognize that managing your time effectively is not just about helping to boost your own productivity. It’s also about perceptions. Managing time contributes to building a reputation of calm, which directly affects your credibility and reputation with those who follow you. --Suzanne Peterson writes a monthly column on management and leadership for The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com. She is an associate professor of management Department at the W. P. Carey School of Business. Her research focuses on the behaviors that characterize extraordinary leaders. She is an editorial board member for several academic journals and holds both a Ph.D. and an MBA from the University of Nebraska. She is a popular speaker and teacher, and her column, On Leadership, appears monthly in The Arizona Republic.