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Are you too busy to lead?

Sunday, June 29, 2014  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Jan C. Hill

We live in a world of ever-increasing expectations, challenged by a tsunami of information and technology and flummoxed by the giant sink hole sucking up all our time. (Gee, I’m tired, just writing that!)

In response, many C-level executives have defaulted into the busyness business. They race as fast as they can from thing to thing putting out fires, but end up going nowhere, fast. I’ve been guilty of this. A mountain of "to do’s” got done, but I feel I missed doing the really compelling things that add up to meaningful leadership.

Related: "Acting too tough: The value of being vulnerable”

What happened to my good intentions for leaving a legacy or creating a breakthrough or making a contribution to my team? I’ve "pushed the pea around,” but never got anything big over the hill. I know I’m not alone in this, because as an executive coach I witness this in action every week. One senior leader was so busy responding to the needs of her organization that she neglected to address a painful tooth issue until she got sidelined with urgent jaw surgery. Another worked night and day fulfilling her main role, as well as "acting” for another executive role when an effective replacement wasn’t found, and then wanted to throw in the towel when she only received a 5 percent bonus compared to her male peers’ 20 percent reward.

I contend that there are two main reasons for these derailments (and one big cure).

1. Shiny objects and squirrels! This is the lexicon of distraction in today’s fast-paced companies. We are all too easily lured by "shiny objects” — alluring assignments or activities that appear to be interesting or good for us, but end up simply taking our time. Or, like the dog in the movie "Up,” we allow our attention to be pulled from the task at hand to the attention-grabbing "squirrel” or fire drill that seems to need our attention. We all like to be important, to be the savior. Instead, the next time you’re invited into a distraction, ask yourself: "Just because I can do this, should I really be doing it?”

2. Too much "servant,” not enough "leadership.” Many of the most effective leaders I know have a servant leader mentality. They care about their employees and they want to help. And yet, women with this mentality may end up spending so much time mentoring, advising and responding, they run out of time to actually lead. The challenge is to learn how to balance between growing, developing and serving your people, and keeping everyone focused on the strategic imperatives.

So, how do you do this? Take a mental health day. The only way to stop the madness is to unplug from it and get strategic. High performers resist this answer because they have a very hard time giving themselves permission to take time out to breathe and think. They believe the sun won’t rise if they aren’t personally there to greet it. These are the same people who travel often and have heard the adage "put the oxygen mask on yourself and then assist others.” It is only by taking time away from the fray, clearing your head and reminding yourself what’s really important that you’ll achieve your goals.

You have to clarify the where, what, how, who and when of it all. Where do I really want to go? What are my real top priorities? How will I do it? Who can help me? When can I get meaningful activity scheduled on my calendar? If you have achieved a C-suite level position, you’re smart enough to know how to do it. It’s not that hard and it doesn’t take any magic. The key is to schedule regular breaks on your calendar and to hold these time blocks sacred.

Jan Hill is CEO of Hill Enterprises Inc., a consulting, coaching and training company established in 1990. She previously served as a manager with Procter & Gamble.

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.

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