There are many reasons – and solutions – for poor management. But the one factor rarely singled out is time.
It’s not the prime issue with bullies and tyrants, of course. Their abysmal management usually boils down to overpowering ego and anger. But for many of us, miscues and mismanagement come because of time pressure or are aggravated by time pressure, perceived or real. Indeed, when we think of terrific managers we have had in our lives, often it was their ability to be fully present, all in, focused on us when they were with us, that was special. They seemed to have all the time in the world for a discussion.
We often use the metaphor of a treadmill for work. So the next overpowers the now. We’re in a rush to decide or to move on to the next decision or next meeting. We need to fight this tendency. It has become an excuse for mismanagement, but is not an unalterable cause. How many times this week would even two minutes more spent in a hallway conversation with a colleague have been helpful to the issue under consideration and your relationship, let alone five minutes? How many decisions would have been better if you took the time to explore more options or to get more information?
Onboarding − the way we introduce new employees to the workplace − is usually terrible, when it isn’t horrific. Newbies still arrive at work the first day and find nobody has time for them. It’s their big day – yet their desk, office or computer password isn’t ready, or the boss is away for three days and they are being babysat by somebody who is clueless about the tasks ahead, or they are left alone, with nothing to do.
Result: The new hire begins to wonder about the wisdom of accepting the job. Equifax found in a study that 40 per cent of employees who left their jobs voluntarily in 2013 did so within the first six months of joining the organization. Onboarding is obviously not the sole cause, but it’s an easy one to fix. Except for the pressure of time.
It’s common for our support of subordinates to decline over time. A graph showing our fondness of new employees over time generally would show a steady decline. Of course, when the warts inevitably surface, we could help them improve. But who has the time for coaching and mentoring when we’re all so busy and bottom-line (mis-)focused? So things get worse, as suspicion, irritation and anger build over time. Send them to a professional-development course? But that takes them away from the office or their clients, and who will handle their load when we’re all so busy? If they go, the improvements will take an investment of time and effort on their return to materialize, but instead they jump back on the treadmill and forget what they learned.
Let’s switch focus: What about you? What could you improve at? What stands in the way? Many things, undoubtedly, but that probably includes time.
Consultant Wally Bock says on his blog that it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking we’re serious about our own personal development, yet put those efforts off till tomorrow or “some day.” He asks: Do you have a personal development plan? Do you schedule time for personal development and put it on the calendar before you schedule routine work? Do you have a budget for personal development? If you want to be a better manager, the answer to all three questions should be yes.
The Eisenhower Matrix, used by former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower and popularized by bestselling author Stephen Covey, highlighted the tussle for our time between the urgent and the important. Keep that tension – and the importance of improving your management – front of mind daily, because the urgent will win otherwise.
Another tension is between patience and acting quickly and decisively. In an era where everything is rushed, patience is needed now more than ever. We need to take time to not do – even to think. At the same time, consultant Ed Batista says on his blog that corporate leaders commonly tell him their biggest mistakes came when they waited too long – to fire people or change culture, for example. Yet, he adds that they also waited too long to schedule blocks of unstructured time in their calendar to do their best thinking. It’s a difficult tension to get right.
Who has time for all that I’m suggesting?
Perhaps more importantly: Who doesn’t have time for it? And the corollary question: How do you make time for it?
- As I watch Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne campaign against the odds for re-election – and think about Stephen Harper going down with an obviously sinking ship in the last federal election – I think back to Andrew Brown’s 1999 book, The Six Dimensions of Leadership, which included being a victim as an important element. To ensure the continued health and survival of organizations, leaders must at times willingly or unwillingly take the blame for problems, perhaps suffering some diminution of esteem or loss of power.
- Two-career couples are commonplace. Does your organization just consider that a nuisance or has it pro-actively changed procedures – for example, in grooming high potentials – to accept the obvious and not shoot itself in the foot?
- Management guru Jim Collins says good leaders are like sheepdogs, following these three rules: First, you can bark a lot, but you don’t bite. Second, you have to be behind, not ahead, of the sheep. Third, you must know where to go and you mustn’t lose the sheep.
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