BUSY = The Enemy of Strategic Leadership

Strategy, Stefan Erschwendner, Flickr

Strategy, Stefan Erschwendner, Flickr

Leaders vs. Managers

The work of managers and leaders is different (See my previous post on key distinctions of leadership and management here). In larger organizations, some roles have the luxury of focusing on one or the other. Increasingly, organizations are looking to individuals to fulfill both roles within the same position.

Individuals are being ask to consider both giving direction (a leadership function) to their team and organizational unit and also guiding processes with efficiency of execution (a managerial function). Drawing on John Kotter and others, here are some key difference between leadership and management.

Leadership is about Doing the Right Thing by:

  • Direction Setting
  • Aligning
  • Motivating

Management is about Doing Things Right by:

  • Planning and Budgeting
  • Organizing and Staffing
  • Controlling and Problem-Solving

Vision, Strategy, & Goals

Both “Doing the Right Thing” (leadership effectiveness) and “Doing Things Right” (managerial efficiency) are vital in organizations. While both of these activities require time and attention, and busyness can be the enemy of both healthy leadership and management, perpetual busyness is especially the enemy of the leadership function of direction setting.

Time is required for setting direction as a strategic leader. It requires time to think. It requires time to reflect.

Healthy organizational vision, organizational strategy, and organizational goals come best to those who pull back from busyness for intentional time to think and reflect.

Identifying the Right Strategy

The issue is not whether or not your organization has a strategy. The issue is whether or not you have the right strategy. Leaders must continually be asking whether or not they are focused on the right things for their organization.

While strategic questions may be asked in seasons of busyness, thoughtful answers to these questions often only come when enough mental bandwidth is freed up in the life of leaders. Strategic insights come most often when there is intentional space to think and reflect.

Hard Work vs. Busy Work

Certainly hard work is core to successful organizations. Organizations thrive when talented members pull together with conscientious, attentive, and coordinated work.

But hard work and busy work are not the same thing. Busy work is not necessarily the hard work that your organization needs. As I share in another post, make sure that you Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress (see related post here). It is possible to be busy and not be effective.

The Work of Leaders = Time for Thought and Reflection

So what is the Hard Work to which leaders must devote their time?

One answer to this is to engage in the work of thought and reflection. This seems simple, but actually there are many factors that often work against this strategic priority for leader time management. Demanding schedules, organizational fires that need to be addressed, requests for time and attention, and just general busyness can work against this “simple” leadership agenda. In response to such demands, it is all too easy for leaders choose busy work over hard work.

Over time, in the face of such realities organizations often create a work climate that validates busy. This validation is rooted in the belief that busy = hard work, and that hard work = organizational performance. While it sometimes works this way, often we are making assumptions that are not accurate.

Sometimes working smarter rather than just working harder requires a different pace—a pace that provides space for the leadership work of thought and reflection. So how are you making time for this vital work of strategic leadership?

Making Time for the Work of Strategic Leadership

Leaders must make time for the work of strategic leadership. This is especially important because the cultures of our organizations are often working against finding this time. It doesn’t just happen—leaders must make time for this vital work.

Some of the most effective public leaders have made time for this work. Warren Buffett is known for insisting on time to just sit and think almost every day. Bill Gates was known for taking a full week off twice a year in order to think and reflect about the strategic needs of Microsoft.

7 Questions for Leaders Engaging the Work of Strategic Leadership

  1. Are we staying focused on what matters most?
  2. What is changing around us that requires a strategic course correction?
  3. What are we doing that needs to be ended or scaled back?
  4. What are we doing that needs to be continued or scaled up?
  5. What are we doing that needs to be improved or strengthened?
  6. What is missing? What are we not doing that needs to be introduced?
  7. What’s next? What is our next top priority for strategic focus?

Taking Time for the Work of Strategic Leadership

The work of strategic leadership is vital for organizational health and effectiveness. Are you too busy for strategic leadership, or are you making time and setting busyness aside for this essential leadership work?

Find some time in the next month to step back from the busy pace of leadership so that you may engage these 7 questions in the work of strategic leadership.

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For additional reading on strategy and leadership see Strategic Foresight: The Past, Present, and Future Focus of Leadership

7 thoughts on “BUSY = The Enemy of Strategic Leadership

  1. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

  2. Justin, outstanding post. My husband, Tim, and I went on a business retreat last weekend to reflect and discuss the big picture for our software business. I printed out your 7 questions, and plan to use them for follow-up discussions now and periodically down the road. Thanks!

  3. Pingback: The Friday Five, Blogs That Matter – September 25, 2015 | The Transformational Leadership Strategist

  4. Life is a series of trade-offs and clearly top leaders are rewarded for their sacrifices. Their positions normally come with higher compensation and often, increased prestige. It’s the level of income and the kind of prestige that lots of people want; the problem is, they often aren’t aware of the costs, or sacrifices, associated with having it. It was against this backdrop that Moritz Schlick formed the Vienna Circle, which became the center of the logical positivist movement and aimed to bring a more scientific approach to human thought.  Throughout the 20’s and  and 30’s, the movement spread and became a symbol of the new technological age.

  5. Pingback: #6 … Top 10 Posts from 2015 — BUSY = The Enemy of Strategic Leadership | Purpose in Leadership

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