If I were to ask you to be perfectly candid about the percentage of your time you spend on the day-to-day routines and issues of your enterprise -- versus guiding your team toward the future -- what would you say? Pick a number.
Now imagine you’re captaining an ocean-liner. Let’s say you’re spending that amount of time (your percentage) facing away from the forward-looking windows and instruments. You’re doing other “Important” things: maybe you’re on the phone with the engine room, fixing a rivet, or talking to passengers, organizing the current day’s shipboard activities, supply-ordering, and so on.
There you are, fully engaged in “doing” in the present moment. Meantime, a mile ahead is a hazard or a better way to get to your destination. If only you hadn’t distracted yourself with the needs of managing the present.
I’ll bet you’d agree that spending any significant percentage of time this way would make you a very poor captain indeed. Of course you’re better off delegating those present-day tasks to those you trust and keeping your eyes firmly facing forward -- toward your destination.
Leadership has a definite best use of time: navigating from the present to the future. The highest-achieving leaders spend the majority of their time focused on building and guiding toward the future, while keeping a close eye on any big barriers and drivers in the present that most impact the way forward.
Of course there are times when events force one to zoom in on today, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s simply a matter of how much time you spend on today versus tomorrow, on average, over the long haul.
Too many leaders spend their time on today’s crises and challenges. The question for you is whether most days are like that, or not? If so, then you are leading like a manager.
The key operating question driving the manager should be “What needs doing right now?” For leaders, the more productive question is: “How can I give these present-day tasks to others so I can focus the majority of my time on achieving my vision, executing a continuously-improving strategy, and removing upcoming obstacles?”
Here are two practices to help you do that:
1. Take a look at your calendar for the next 30 days, and identify all meetings (one-on-one and otherwise) that will likely be focused on the present. What percentage of your time do they represent? What do you want to do about it?
2. The next time you’re in an unproductive meeting or conversation, try a time-shift. Break the pattern by moving the conversation to the future with a simple statement like "Let's look ahead for a moment," and lead a discussion about goals and means to get them done. Notice how productivity rises.
It’s up to you to time shift your leadership into a constant look-ahead mode, and you will lead to positive results that begin to unfold immediately.