How to Lead When There's Not Enough Time

How to Lead When There’s Not Enough Time

When There’s Not Enough Time Your Leadership Is More Important Than Ever

Sheila raised her hand and asked for the microphone. We were near the end of a powerful leadership development program where the participants had worked hard on culture-transformation. She took a deep breath and said, “I love everything we’ve received today. But realistically, there’s not enough time. My manager doesn’t care about this stuff – so I don’t know what to do.”

Specifically, Sheila was struggling with how to spend 10 minutes each week with each team member to support them, ensure they had what they needed to succeed, and maintain goal alignment.

Can you relate? Sheila isn’t alone. Over the past few months, we’ve heard many managers say, “I want to, but there’s not enough time.”

Let’s be real: many managers receive responsibility for their teams on top of their job responsibilities. Nothing goes away. They’re leading AND doing their old job.

This isn’t ideal, but it happens. If this is your scene, the good news is that you can still lead well.

Four Steps to Take When There’s Not Enough Time

Leading when time is tight requires you to make choices about how you approach your work. With a few shifts in your mindset, you can significantly improve the quality of your leadership.

1. Redefine Success

Leading when there’s not enough time begins with reframing your job.

As a leader, your number one job isn’t to “get the job done” yourself. It’s to get the job done well, through the team. When you take on too much because “everyone else is busy too” the work gets done, but you’re not tapping into the diversity of strengths or helping your team to grow.

We’ve heard the objections, “But Karin and David, my boss doesn’t see it that way. I’ve got to do the job they want. And no one does it better than me.”

Yes, you need to achieve the results you’re accountable for. But if you’re always the best person for the job, you’re in trouble. It’s not an either/or choice. It’s a matter of you choosing how you will get results.

No one makes that choice for you. It’s up to you.

2. Commit to Leadership (Even in a Crisis)

There is an insightful scene in the original Men In Black movie where Jay (Will Smith) tries to shoot an alien in plain sight of civilians. Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) confronts him and emphasizes the need to stay focused on what matters most:

Kay: We do not discharge our weapons in view of the public!

Jay: We don’t got time for this cover-up bull-. Look, I don’t know if you forgot, but there’s an Arquillian Battle…

Kay: There’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Korilian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable planet. The only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they “do not know about it!”

There will always be a new crisis, another change of the strategic objective, and thirty-seven other tasks you could do today. If you want an excuse to not lead, they are plentiful.

As with the Men in Black, “the only way” it works is to stay focused on what matters most. Treat those urgent moments as opportunities to lead.

3. Recognize the Time You Have

You’re right. You don’t have time to do everything you’d like to do (and that will always be true). But that’s not the question.

The real question is: What is the most important leadership action you need to do next?

Maybe you need to focus on developing your people. Or you want to get everyone organized around key strategic outcomes. Maybe there is a new initiative you haven’t implemented well and need to improve.

You may not have time for everything, but you have time for that. And, sometimes you may need to get creative.

When Karin was in her sales executive role with fourteen remote direct reports, she would often get up early and do a bit of yoga to ground herself for the day. During the last half hour, she would concentrate for a minute or two on each of her direct reports to consider what they needed most and how she might help. She would prioritize her thoughts and make touch-base calls on her drive time between stores.

When you focus on the one leadership behavior that will make the most difference, it’s amazing what you can achieve in a small amount of time. You can help people grow through short exchanges (and it’s often more effective than a long conversation).

4. Choose Progress Over Perfect

Three minutes spent with a team member or a ten-minute huddle with your team may not feel like the comprehensive work you want to do, but we promise: it works.

Small moments of daily progress lead to significant results. Don’t allow your desire for perfection to keep you from doing what you can do today.

If you don’t see how you might meet with each team member for 10 minutes each week, then try meeting with half of them this week and the other half next week. Still too much to ask? How about one person each day for 10 minutes?

Unless you’re in the middle of a rare conflagration, you can find 10 minutes today. That’s all it takes.

Your Turn

Ultimately, leading when you don’t have enough time is a choice. It’s a choice to recognize that you influence your team with everything you do.

Leave us a comment and share your best practice for being a healthy leader – even when time is tight.

Posted in Winning Well and tagged , , , .

Karin Hurt David Dye

Karin Hurt and David Dye help leaders achieve breakthrough results without losing their soul. They are keynote leadership speakers, trainers, and the award-winning authors of Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul. Karin is a top leadership consultant and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive, elected official, and president of Let's Grow Leaders, their leadership training and consulting firm.

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