She sat in front of her boss, the CEO, waiting for him to open the discussion about her annual performance review. She had written up two highly detailed pages of her accomplishments over the past year. It had been a rough year. There had been market changes, business changes, unexpected crises, systems issues, personnel issues, and more. Her team had performed admirably. She was proud of them and looking forward to giving the team credit for all that had been done.
It had come at a cost, though. She had worked extremely long hours, her calendar was constantly booked, her personal relationships had suffered from her absence and she felt a constant level of stress that, if she were honest with herself, impacted her ability to focus. But, she told herself, this was temporary and it was necessary.
Her boss opened the conversation. “I’m worried about you. You’re always so busy. You’re running from one meeting to another. It looks like things are out of control and you don’t have a handle on the most important business issues.”
Her jaw dropped. He didn’t really just say that. Out of control? She was working so hard to make sure things were in control. Didn’t he read all that had been accomplished? Was there no appreciation for how hard she had worked?
It’s not the hard work and the details that get the recognition. It’s the results.
In all her rushing around to handle the details and stay on top of everything, she had missed the big issues, the ones that her boss cared about and the ones that would have the biggest impact. And worse, she looked incompetent.
Being busy will not get the job done. It takes strategic focus on the most impactful issues.
A common mistake as we progress into bigger roles with more responsibility is trying to do the new job in the old way. Yes, we bring our strengths to each new level of responsibility, but the challenge is to use those old strengths in new ways, and to develop some new techniques for leading.
To lead we need to lead ourselves first. It’s our calendar, our schedule, our agenda. When we don’t intentionally choose where we spend our time, someone else chooses for us. We end up being pulled in multiple directions based on what others want for their agendas.
To lead, we need to distinguish the urgent details from the important and impactful issues. Good leaders identify where they can make the biggest impact (and manage the biggest risks) for the company.
And therefore, to lead, we need time to think.
It is not possible to truly lead if every minute of your day is scheduled. The person in the story committed a dire mistake…she failed to allow herself time to step back and think. Her perspective was driven by whatever details people were putting in front of her. We all need “white space”, i.e. non- scheduled thinking time, to give us a chance to regroup, consider what’s happening and think. Her level of stress and busyness prohibited her from thinking clearly and maintaining focus.
Learning to lead at a higher, more strategic level is a natural progression of one’s corporate career. But we don’t necessarily get “taught” how to do it. It’s often sink or swim or learn on your own.
Take the opportunity to develop your leadership. Get a mentor, a coach, read books, attend classes, all of which I used myself in my corporate career. A near term opportunity is the Elevate Your Leadership Skills coaching program starting Mid October. Join me in this small group program and have the support of a coach and other leaders as you develop your skills. But time’s running out. Choose to elevate your leadership by registering today.
Photo: Kris Wiktor/Shutterstock