I am taking a break from writing for a few days to strategize for the second half of 2012 and for a speaking engagement in Southern California. While I’m away, I’m re-posting some of my most popular posts from the last year. I hope you enjoy reading or re-reading these posts. I’ll be back and better than ever on July 16, 2012!
When you lead a group of busy people, you may wonder what kind of influence you actually have in their lives. They rush from event to event and from commitment to commitment. This is especially true in our culture that supports moving and changing faster than ever.
We live in a world where time around the family dinner table is a dying tradition. It’s getting harder to get a group of people in the same room together.
We’ve discovered that we need our calendars to keep us organized but we’re surprised how quickly they fill up. It feels like our culture is pushing us to attain more, accomplish it better, and achieve it faster.
In this accelerated society, there are some practical action steps a leader can take to develop and deepen his or her impact. Each of the following five actions is a declaration of war on busyness as a way of increasing effectiveness.
As you look at this list, I want you to start with yourself. Recognize the effect this fast-paced lifestyle has on you as a person and as a leader. Look in the mirror. You may find that those whom you lead are merely following your example.
If that’s the case, you may need to change the kind of example you set. These five actions are more caught than taught. If you want to impact your busy people, I encourage you to model each of these in front of them.
1. Slow Down
One of the best leadership lessons I ever learned from John Maxwell was to walk slowly through the crowd. This was a lesson in availability and approachability. How many times have you heard those around you say they were hesitant to talk to you because you were busy?
Busyness becomes a barrier to communication and relationship. By all means, work hard. But work in such a way that you are available and approachable for the people on your team.
Busyness can often lead to confusion. We don’t have enough time to think. We run around with limited knowledge. As a leader, you have to start with the assumption that most people want to do the right thing.
Unfortunately, when a person is rushing from one project to the next, he or she may be struggling to figure out what the right thing is. You can simplify the plans and processes for people by helping them know exactly what it is they should be doing (which is not the same thing as telling them how to do it).
Give people clear and concise measurements for success. Make the tools and resources they need readily available. Instead of encouraging your people to take on “one more thing,” you might lighten their load by helping them do “one less thing.”
3. Have More Conversations
When things get busy, we tend to talk less. Too many leaders get caught up in focusing on all of the rational and tactical challenges of leadership. Yet, the greatest impact is made on an emotional and conversational level.
Leaders need to connect with the people before they try to connect people to a plan. In the midst of conversation, people are listening for meaning and purpose. They aren’t just hearing about what they have to do, they are listening for the reasons why what they do is relevant.
One of the best questions you can ask before engaging in a conversation is “how do I want to make this person feel?” Put yourself in their shoes. A conversation is an experience that will inspire people.
Max DePree states, “the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” I hope you understand that leadership is only a means to an end. It is merely a vehicle through which we accomplish what’s important.
Your job is to help others know what’s important. One of the ways you can clarify that is to help people visualize what success in your context looks like. Paint a picture. Put your people in the picture. If they can see it, they’re more apt to work toward it.
Another way you create clarity is through a compelling story. You can list out your mission, vision, and values – but they’ll make a lot more sense if you can capture them through stories that promote them in action.
People need to have a clear picture of what all their work is creating. They need to experience some sense of shared purpose that provides an easy-to-understand context for making future decisions.
If you take the time to model and develop the first four actions in this list, it will push you toward this last one. Rather than encourage you to list out all of the things you are doing and assign 1, 2, or 3 to each item on the list, I want to offer another, simpler approach to prioritization.
I encourage you to focus on what’s next. Identifying what’s next simplifies your priority list down to one thing…the next thing. Of course, the next thing is a combination of both importance and urgency. But it’s only one thing.
Sometimes our busyness forces us to try and work on multiple things. That’s not effective and it definitely doesn’t produce our best work. The ability to prioritize is knowing, at any given moment, what the next thing is…and then focus on that one thing.
There will always be seasons of busyness within the life of your team. You can increase your leadership effectiveness by modeling each of these actions in front of your people. Your example may be the inspiration they need to fight against a harried pace of life.