A recent KPMG Global CEO survey found that 86% of global leaders struggled to find time to think about two of the most critical drivers in their businesses – disruption and innovation. In Australia, that percentage crept up to 94%. When you think about the role a leader plays in steering the organisation in the right direction, and navigating the challenges in a complex and volatile environment, not having enough time to think has to be problematic.
I am not surprised by this though. This issue comes up every time I work with a leadership team on their productivity. They are so pressured during the day with meetings, emails and interruptions, they have no time to really think, make sense of things, connect the dots or make quality decisions.
I believe that those working at the leadership level need to protect time for four key disciplines. They need to communicate strategy and give instructions (Talk), gather intelligence (Listen), make decisions (Decide) and take time to ponder and sense-make (Think).
Most leaders spend a lot of their time talking and listening, which are both activities they do in collaboration with others, or what I label as ‘facing out’. These collaboration activities, often in the form of meetings, are critical for any leader, but can swamp the schedule and leave little time for other work.
They then tell themselves a story about how this is just the nature of their role, and they need to leave thinking and deciding until outside of hours. But the problem here is that this impacts on their family or personal time, which has real and severe consequences in some cases. And there has to be question marks over the quality of this thinking!
I believe to be truly effective, leaders need to actively make and protect time in their week to ‘face in’ – spend time alone thinking and making decisions. They should not see this as downtime, wasted time or less valuable time. In fact, it may be the most valuable time in their week.
I once worked with a law-firm partner who said the most valuable lesson he learnt as a junior lawyer from his first senior partner was to never be afraid to look out of the window. His boss said that if he ever caught him looking out the window, he would know he was doing what he was paid to do – think!
Have you stopped looking out of the window?