“I can’t take anything else on.” 

2020 has been a relentless year, taking every ounce of leaders’ strength and attention. A common thread to the conversations we’re having with leaders is the simple fact that their plates are full to overflowing, and they simply can’t take on anything more.

However, as these conversations continue, it becomes evident that many of these leaders are blocking and tackling tactical issues. They’re being drawn into hand-to-hand combat, when in reality, their impact would be greater if they were viewing the scene strategically, through a wider lens.

An important thing for leaders to consider: the quality of the time they spend leading.

Leading people takes time. Figuring out how to spend that time most productively is a challenge.

How productive is your own leadership time? Here are four questions to ask yourself:

  • Are employee issues and concerns requiring more of your attention than usual?
  • What issues do employees have right now that are taking up your time?
  • Do you find yourself answering the same questions repeatedly?
  • Is your leadership team having to correct rumors and misinformation?

Here’s a real-life example, paraphrased from a conversation one of our Engagement Managers had this week:

A CEO of an EM client made the decision to renew with us even though he isn’t contemplating fielding a Benchmark Assessment until next summer.  In the meantime, he is using Suggestion Box to keep lines of communication open and to provide his employees with a place to submit feedback and ideas. 

At the same time, he told us that he’s dealing with an increasingly prevalent challenge we’re seeing, in which the expectations employees and employers have of each other are falling out of alignment.  

At the beginning of the pandemic, employee and employer priorities and expectations were aligned – everyone was focused on keeping the business going and finding new ways to serve clients, in an effort to keep the lights on within the business and people in their jobs.

In this CEO’s case, he took actions to prevent furloughing and laying off his employees, including pausing annual pay raises and bonus awards. 

Happily, he’s now able to pay employees a bonus. However, with the business still faced with a lot of near-term uncertainty, the CEO has not reinstated annual pay raises.

His employees aren’t happy about this, and it’s become a repeated topic of conversation,  In the discussion with us, this CEO noted that getting employees to understand the company’s position is a significant challenge for him and his team. 

Our take: If he could get the company onto the same page, this particular CEO could create clear and transparent communication and context relating to where the company stands, the decisions the leaders have taken, and why.  This would end effectively end the discussion about raises, alleviate a good measure of employee discontent (if not all of it) and enable the CEO to do two important things: 

  • Move on from the issue 
  • Expend his leadership time improving the business, not mired in the same issue 
  • Begin to build more unity and trust between leadership and employees. 

As an earlier webinar guest, Alan Smith, CEO of Capital Asset Management, drew a sharp distinction between leadership time spent and quality of work.  Of survey feedback, for example, Smith said, “In the short term, this does create more work, but it’s good beneficial work. As themes emerge from the feedback, it’s actionable. In the longer term is likely to lead to hours saved and other benefits.”

Our advice to leaders – take a hard look at the time you’re spending leading your people. If you’d like to improve the quality of that time, look to resolve the persistent employee issues that continue to eat away at your available bandwidth.

You can resolve those problems – permanently – and recapture your time for more productive use, by using an employee engagement survey to identify core issues. Share survey findings with your team, and resolve to address the top two or three issues, and delegate that resolution to your lieutenants.  Within a short period of time – in many cases just a month or two – they’ll find the issues are rectified, employees are refocused, and your time will again be your own.