We live in a fast-paced world. People everywhere move from task to task within hours and even minutes. Stress grows every day. The cases of people who die after a burnout rise ever year (According to APA in 2018 in the US 68 000 people have lost life after burn out). In this fast-paced world, leaders are now different than in the previous decades. They have more responsibilities, have to balance between many more challenges and also have to think about how to balance not only their self-balance but also the one from the people in their teams. Conflicts based on workload have become a normal element of the day. People take their problems from work to their homes and in many cases (31% according to Gallup International research) these problems become a cause for destroying families, relationships, etc.
Looks scary? Unfortunately, it is the truth and things won’t look better if we don’t do anything. In such a challenging situation the role of the leader emerges even more as a role model of how to fight the everyday biases in work and life and balance the pressure caused by the changing environment.
People like to work by example, and this is why the role of the leader must be transformed from controlling and insisting on giving example and supporting positive change. That is why, if you, as a leader, want to change something, you will need to start with yourself.
The star leader consists of a complex balance of different skills, understandings, and attitudes. But almost all of them can be easily defined as part of something more complex and far more impacting productivity and efficiency. People search for them, collect pieces of evidence on productivity, look for feedback, follow, or delude themselves to follow rules and feedback that help them further develop the complex matrix of leadership for themselves and others.
In 2019 there were more than 1,3 million articles on leadership, written anywhere in the world (according to Gartner research on leadership topic) and more than 40 000 books.
The reason why people write so much is far away from selfish and winning money. They all want to help others. In a fast-moving world, the one invaluable thing is the practical experience you can share with others to help them save time and overcome obstacles in their reality. These many people writing on the topic are trying to do that. Some of them hit the pulse of the people around them, others find distant groups that are interested in their experience. But still, in a world-changing so rapidly, going with an old and theoretical paradigm, almost always can lead you to hard to fight challenges generating obstacles instead of results.
That is why leaders need to adapt their skills, attitudes, and knowledge to answer the challenging environment and still deliver great results through others. But to help others and ensure results you will need to start with yourself.
Imagine you are not a leader, but an employee who follows one. What do you want to see, – messy desk, chaotic approach, not enough time for you, or someone who helps you grow and always has time for you. I bet you have chosen the second scenario. And if you are a leader do you want to be seen as an unreliable person from everyone around you, or maybe position yourself as the winning leader, able to conquer the environmental challenges and deliver results. All leaders in the world want that second thing to happen, but still many of them are trying to manage and control others to ensure results while failing to manage themselves. I have been in the same situation for many years. And then, one day I met a person who opened my eyes. It was a lady who has started a company in a very specific area. She woke up every morning at 5:00 AM and finished her day every day at exactly 5:30 PM. And she never missed a deadline or skipped a conversation with an employee at her company. I followed that lady almost 2 years, before having the guts to ask her, how has she made it to that level?
She answered in a very polite, but positive way and explained to me, her secret. I started using her model and now I decide how much do I have to work and what results will I achieve. Here are the 3 skills I am mastering for the last 4 years and give me the exact results I am searching for:
Looks obvious, right? You have to start with the analysis of your current state to help you better understand where you are. And still, so many people don’t do it. Instead, they try to finish all the tasks and show how high their performance level is. To analyze the current environment you need time. What looks like a high priority can easily turn into a second or third level goal. That is why it is important to master the skill of analyzing situations to come out with the right priorities. Start by analyzing the current situation you are in – analyze the time you invest in tasks completion, socializing, eating, distracting with social media, your favorite games on your phone, etc. Then summarize the productive time you have and compare it to the other things that happen throughout your day. If your productive time is less than the distractors’ time then you have a problem. We cannot forget about our favorite distractors. In the 21st century, doing that will mean a social death for you. But what you need to look at is the balance. If your distraction time is more than 20% of your day then you have to work on lowering that number. If not, share the experience you have with others and think if there is still room for improvement.
Planning the right priorities with the right amount of time
One thing I see even in my team is a lack of good planning. Most people live in a magical world where everything happens by the clock. Well in the real world the situation differs a lot – priorities change, distractors come from everywhere( even if some of them come with good intentions), technical equipment is failing us, the network falls, etc. What I simply do here is to stop at the end of each working day. I have 30 minutes scheduled, to go through the daily activities and the information I have gathered and see if my plan is still actual. If not I’m making the necessary changes to the plan to adapt it to the current situation. Something else you can do here is, after assessing your priorities to re-assess the time you have planned for each of them. According to the circumstances, you may need less time in one project or task but will need to invest much more time in another. Keeping that balance will help you to balance also the pressure and stress these changes can create. Something that many people forget (even some of the business leaders managing global businesses is to not plan enough additional time for unconventional events. That often causes delays, lower results, more stress. To avoid this and act proactively you will need to re-assess the time you and your team members will need to finish a project or a task and add 5-10% time to it. Do not look at a project only from your perspective, assessing only your speed of finishing tasks. Take into consideration the speed of each team member involved to define what your real speed of delivering a result can be, and then add your additional time.
Communicating clearly and with confidence
This is the hardest skill to master. In a world, full of opportunities to communicate we have lost our ability to inform others. I will share a short story with you. A year ago I have worked on a very important project. While informing the senior leadership team at my company for a struggling project I have found that one of the project team members has stopped working on a crucial project task. I made everything by the book – organized meeting to ask for the reasons, give some negative feedback and even thinking of punishing the person. Until I found the reason why. It seemed that in my absence a senior leadership team member has said that maybe that task is not a priority at the moment and working on it is a time-waster. The person who was assigned to the task heard that and scratched it from its schedule. But, while this happened, neither the person responsible or the senior leadership team member continued with he communication why this happened until the day before the big meeting with the whole senior leadership team where I have had to inform them on progress and obstacles. While entering the meeting with the intent to punish I have transformed it into a coaching session for that person. Then I reassessed the project deliverables time schedules and on the next day stand out to explain what happened and how are we planning to fix it. I counted on enlarging the schedule for the project with 2 weeks, instead, when I explained the situation and what were the obvious and hidden consequences I got 4 more weeks and additional support.
If a leader wants to be accepted and valued he or she must be a good communicator, able to talk for positive and negative things in his or her work, by showing strong involvement to find a working solution for the situations by communicating clearly without accusing, but still pointing on weaknesses and the opportunities.
The way we structure our priorities plays a crucial role in our achievements and results. Leaders who don’t focus on using the big picture to plan and deliver results are doomed to always be second and lead teams full of people with low engagement and accountability to the priorities. The successful leader of the high performing team is the one who owns the process and the steps in each task and the project and can clearly define and redefine its and team members’ priorities.