Do you ever wonder what, exactly, a leader is supposed to DO all day? It’s not such a simple question, and many people we work with struggle with that issue often.
Leadership requires a specific set of priorities and skills in order to succeed. Sometimes we see leaders—particularly newly appointed leaders of functional areas like engineering and finance—fall into the trap of believing that their primary value comes from the technical expertise they bring to their jobs. As a result, they find themselves doing work their subordinates should be doing, canceling one-on-one meetings and staff meetings because of more “urgent” priorities, and grumbling that no one works as hard or can do the work of their department as well as they can. Such an activity trap is a dangerous place for someone who is accountable for return on investment, cost and quality control, motivation and retention of key employees, and corporate vision. How can you address these bottom-line outcomes if you’re always busy “doing the work”?
Effective leaders we know step back from deadline-based work to consider their current reality and to decide how to best spend their time to accommodate these new priorities. They seek out new kinds of tasks that help set a clear direction for their organization, get people focused on a common set of objectives, and inspire, achieving results through their ideas and through the people they lead.
Here are some positive ways that I’ve seen leaders effectively allocate their valuable time in a given work week:
Being strategic. Strong leaders set aside several hours each week to thinking strategically, anticipating future ideas and direction, and planning for success. Tasks that involve strategic thinking include reading, engaging in dialogue with others in (and outside of) your industry, attending training and conferences, working with a coach, writing or even thinking quietly.
Forming and strengthening relationships. Leaders who succeed invest time and energy in relationships with bosses, key clients, and peers from other work groups. They share information about their work, areas of focus, and ideas for future planning. Good leaders also listen well, making sure they really understand another vision or point of view. Through lunches, scheduled and impromptu meetings, phone conversations or even golf games, they’re building trust, learning about other priorities, and forming ideas.
Coaching and developing people. Every good leader I know sets aside priority time for each of the people who can affect their team’s successes and outcomes. These leaders know their staff members well, and can articulate specific goals, areas of passion, special skills and capabilities, areas of concern or anxiety, big ideas, even outside interests. More important, they help their team members convert the passion, ideas and skills into successful work outcomes.
Team building. Successful leaders build teams that function well together, support individual members, believe in their own capacity, and stay focused on achieving their objectives. They help team members understand the roles they play in the bigger picture, and help them find creative ways to contribute to the team’s success. They make time to learn how to hold effective meetings, build consensus, delegate tasks well, and facilitate networking.
Performing tasks appropriate for management. There’s an important difference between tasks that should be handled and those that should be delegated. Leaders need to focus on tasks that require a special expertise, personal involvement, and advocacy. They invest time in conducting performance reviews, articulating ideas in speeches, articles and memos, and tackling tasks that carry a higher risk.
The above represents a good starting list, to be tailored to your particular industry and needs. Make your own list as specific as you can. With whom will you seek to build relationships? What books will you read, what conferences will you attend, how and when will you make time to connect with your team? Feel free to consult with any of our team members if you need help—it’s what we do best.