One thing is almost universally true this time of year, people are busy. I can always count on an increased number of schedule changes to coaching calls as students have to respond to the latest crisis at work as end-of-year activities demand attention. One student recently lamented that she had a long list of leadership priorities for her team but she didn’t have the time to do any of it because her boss had come down with another must-do tasking. We asked the question during the call, what does a leader do when they are too busy to lead? I’m reminded of an old quip from the military, “How often does a soldier need a haircut?” The answer is “A good soldier NEVER needs a haircut!” Similarly, what does a leader do when they are too busy to lead? A great leader is NEVER too busy to lead. OK, so perhaps we should re-phrase the question. What does a great leader do when it seems like other work is demanding all of their attention? Here are a few ideas to keep in mind:
Don’t ignore your people. It is all too easy to let “stuff” consume all of your attention. But the danger is that your folks may think your sudden detachment is because you don’t really care about them. Be honest about why you are unavailable and let them know you aren’t just avoiding them. Avoid the temptation to assume they know you are busy with other other work. Be apologetic and appreciative – let them know you would prefer to be available but circumstances are preventing it. Be appreciative that you have a team that can act autonomously and cover for you for a while. (You have developed them to be able to do this, right?)
Set aside open office time. Let’s face it, sometimes issues come up that your team members believe they have to bring to your attention. The trouble is this usually happens throughout the day, right? But if you let that happen now, not only will you be resentful of them but you may not be able to focus on the task that is demanding your attention. The solution? Schedule 30 minutes in the day for open office time and let your folks know you will be available then for them to bring critical issues to you. Tell them to either delay routine matters or work them themselves. If email is the norm, let them know not to expect you to read their email until that time. Instruct them to use descriptive subject lines prefaced with the word “Critical” to help you triage the important emails from the routine. This will help prevent the steady stream of interruptions common to many leadership positions. You may also find that coming up for air once a day will help you to re-energize for whatever is consuming your time. As soon as possible after normalcy returns, schedule make-up time with your team to find out what you’ve been missing.
Seek help and delegate. Leaders sometimes forget they don’t have to be heroes. Don’t be afraid to ask for help on stuff that you normally manage. Newer leaders can find this especially challenging, feeling like they are expected to perform above the norm and that their team may resent them for asking for their help. Delegating tasks is a great way to develop your team’s skills and you will likely find that those delegated to are motivated because of the trust you are showing them. Not delegating or asking for help is a quick path to late nights and burnout.
We all get busy at times. But as leaders, we aren’t afforded the luxury of just checking out to focus on a priority tasking. Our team counts on us for leadership, but hopefully these tips will help you provide that leadership while getting that “other job” done too.