As the year begins, it is important for transformational leaders to examine their relationship with time. It is one of the most important strategic resources at our command. Use it well as a medium to deliver the preferred future rather than an enemy that burns the bridge beneath our feet!
Many of us believe that time is a problem to be solved and not a resource to be managed. Newspaper and magazine feature stories suggest that the decade whipped by with unparalleled speed, which of course is nonsense. The decade took precisely a decade, down to the minute, exactly as it has since time was first measured.
So what has changed in our perception of time? Anxiety levels have risen about this precious resource. Not enough time in the day…a New York minute… speed meetings… the 24/7 marketplace…recession… the end of the Mayan calendar. Whoa! Anxiety has jolted us into hyper-speed.
Remember when we were kids? Futurists were predicting the end of work, or at the very least a four-day workweek. Now, many executives work six days a week and the 60-hour workweek is a norm. Once you’re on the anxiety treadmill, it’s hard to get off. Everything looks like an urgent priority. All to often, those “urgent priorities” are actually a waste of time. They may indeed be urgent but are they really strategic? And do they move you and the organization anywhere closer to your preferred future?
As Albert Einstein reminds us: “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” All too often, my clients say that this is precisely their experience of work- a place where everything is happening at once and everything’s a priority.
The Five Opportunities
To transform our experience of time, it is important to reflect on the opportunities that time provides rather than its limitations. To see time as a straightjacket that restricts us from accomplishing our heart’s desire is a symptom of the problem.
What if time is an opportunity?
Transformational leaders see at least five opportunities that time provides:
1. The opportunity to envision the future.
Prescience, the ability to see into the future, comes to those that make a landing strip for its arrival. That landing strip is called the Span of Time. What are the short, medium, and long-term opportunities, needs and implications of the expedition to the preferred future that you envision for yourself, your team, your organization or community? Time to reflect supports the ability to see the journey from possibilities to outcomes.
2. The opportunity for continuous learning
Clarity and discernment are the gifts that time bestows on those who examine the lessons of the past. Transformational leaders don’t dwell on the past; they cull it for lessons that support continuous improvement and clues that lead to the future. If you have stopped learning on the job, because you are too busy, move on. You’re complacent, stale, and going through the motions. That complacency will leak into the organization and undermine performance.
3. The opportunity to build and strengthen relationships
Strong relationships lead to effective collaboration. Every transformational leader knows that without people, his or her vision is dead in the water. Gordon M. Bethune, a past chief executive of Continental Airlines, made sure that every time he took a flight he arrived early enough at the airport to spend time in the crew room with his people. “Being good at your job,” he told the New York Times, “is predicated pretty much on how the people working for you feel.”
4. The opportunity to set your priorities
A common mistake is to allow circumstances to dictate priorities rather than setting them based on the vision of where you want to lead your organization. We begin to believe that the circumstances are more powerful than we are. We complain about how things are but we often fail to take action to correct the situation and end up supporting the status quo as a result. Remember what Stephen Covey says: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
5. The opportunity to act wisely.
Time is the great ally of wisdom. The Roman philosopher, Cicero, hardly a contemporary writer, has some very modern advice for us here: “The function of wisdom is to discriminate between good and evil.” In the absence of wisdom, action serves expediency and leads to missteps of personal ambition over the common good, callous treatment of others, and recklessness that results in lasting damage. Taking time to ensure that you have reflected on the impact of your actions, as President Obama did recently on Afghanistan, ensures that good governance practices are applied to decision-making.