Leaders and managers are busy people, under enormous pressure to perform. Yet in their paper “Beware the Busy Manager”, Harvard Business Review, February 2002, Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal ask the challenging question “Are the least effective executives the ones who look like they are doing the most?”
By common consent everyone has sixty seconds in each minute, sixty minutes in each hour, and twenty-four hours in each day: time is more fairly distributed than any other resource. Despite the proliferation of Time Management systems and courses, the big question is not about time – it is about commitment. On what do I spend my time, and how productive is that investment?
Bruch and Goshal found that only 10% of managers are purposeful in investing their time in what makes the difference. This is a disturbing statistic – and inspiring in terms of the scope for improvement! What are the 90% doing? Some (20%) are disengaged – busily focussing on many things, without sufficient energy for any. Even more (30%) are procrastinating – busy, yet low in both energy and focus, continually putting things off. And the largest proportion (40%) are distracted – highly energetic, often frenetically busy – and unfocussed so ineffective.
What are the purposeful managers doing to be effective? They are “highly energetic and highly focused …they achieve critical, long-term goals more often …they are more self-aware” with “clarity about their intentions, in combination with strong willpower …making deliberate choices…with a sense of personal responsibility…” they “feel accountable for making a meaningful contribution” and are “adept at husbanding energy…skilled at finding ways to reduce stress levels” …they have “personal volition – the refusal to let other people or organisational constraints set the agenda…” they “develop relationships with influential people, and build specific competencies that broaden their choices and ability to act”.
William Onken has featured in management literature for his idea of the manager and someone else’s task – see, for example, “Management Time” 1986. When in response to a problem or request or someone else’s inaction I offer to take the responsibility to deal with it –“leave it with me” – I accept another task to add to those with which I am already busy. It is as if I have more and more tasks on my back, requiring that I carry them and feed them and cope with their conflicting demands. This is a recipe for growing disengagement, distraction and procrastination. Ensure that each of these tasks stays with its owner!
The purposeful manager focuses on the vital few priorities and engages with these, delivering accountably, delegating appropriately, behaving assertively, leading by example and supporting others responsibly through positive relationships, clear communication, commitment, performance management and coaching.