A common issue faced by many leaders, something that often comes up in my coaching sessions, is finding time and space to focus on strategic tasks, due to the demands of day-to-day operations.
This challenge often arises because not everything in their daily routine is essential. To create more time for strategic thinking, it's crucial for leaders to identify what tasks are absolutely necessary and remove or delegate non-essential ones.
When I talk to my coaching clients, it's a common theme of feeling like they're spinning too many plates and that they don't have enough time to step back and progress the strategic elements of their jobs as leaders because of the demands of the day to day. And obviously, that's part of what coaching is about, it's about giving people the space to reflect on their day to day, but coaching sessions cannot be the only opportunity a leader creates for themselves to be reflective and think strategically.
So why do we end up in situations where we don't have the time?
I think, firstly, I think the key truth is that not everything we do in our day-to-day is essential. So if we're at capacity, it's really important to remove our ego from the situation and understand that not everything that we do is important.
Let's get over ourselves
Not everything we do is important to us
Not everything we do is important to our team
Not everything we do is important to our stakeholders.
One way of enabling you to have more time to focus on strategy and direction is to reduce the amount of work that you're doing. It's really important to have a think, what am I doing that is absolutely essential? And remove the other stuff, either through just not doing it or through delegation.
That brings us on to another reason why I think a lot of leaders find it hard to create the space that they feel they need. And it's that delegation bit. Delegation only works if you have cultivated the right ecosystem around you.
Do you have the people around you, the team and network that enable you to focus on only the things that you should be focusing on? Or do you find that you have your plate piled up with food that should be for other people?
I think often when I talk with leaders about overwork, it's because they may not have an effective structure around them that enables them to be successful and enables them to focus on the things where they can deliver the most value.
Another important element is when looking at the work on your plate, is think about where's it come from? What's driving it?
Is this work things that you recognise that you should do and that you are the best person that is best placed to be able to do that work? Or has someone else put some food on your plate? Are you doing stuff for other people to the detriment of your own work?
Sometimes that's okay. That's the ebb and flow, the push and pull of being a collaborative leader. But sometimes you get work that actually shouldn't be yours.
So I think in order to create space, if your capacity is finite (which it is!), you can't create space by creating more capacity.
You have to do less, personally, in order to create the space. So that's a big thing. And the things that you can do, or that you are best placed to do.
Not taking on other people's bullshit work.
Being clear what's essential and what isn't. There are many different ways of prioritising that stuff, using the 4D quadrant of Drop, Defer, Delegate and Do. But focusing on what's essential is really important.
An important first step in thinking strategically is about the team that you need to put in place to enable you to manage that workload. And that involves a really clear understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses, but also your interests.
If there is work that is non-essential, you just aren't interested in it, then you need to be able to identify who can do that work for you. That's your job as a leader.
Your job as a leader is not just about making yourself as effective as possible. It's delivering strategic, important capabilities for your business. And if you as a leader choose, and it is a choice ultimately, to take on too much work, to not address capability gaps that are symptoms of you taking on too much work, then you're not doing the right thing, either for yourself or for your organisation.
There is a better way of doing things.
You have a choice about whether you want to address those things and how you want to address them, and define that better way of doing things, or accept them, and compromise your ability to be effective in the areas that matter most to you and the business.