A Cup of Leadership CaffeineIt probably comes as no surprise that the primary excuse that many leaders cite for not focusing on important priorities like coaching, feedback and development is, “ lack of time.”

I’ve heard this “excuse” over and over again in workshops and mentoring sessions. And while there’s little argument over the importance of engaging in these and other positive leadership behaviors, many individuals shrug their shoulders, admit guilt, express frustration over their inability to carve out time and cite administrative, transactional and span of control issues as impediments.

I’ve attacked this from a number of approaches ranging from preaching the virtues of getting this right (I gain agreement but little behavior modification) to various approaches including re-orienting calendars, rethinking attendance at many meetings and taking advantage of lunch, opportunities to grab coffee, early mornings etc.  Many have reported achieving some progress by reorienting their priorities, but almost all indicate a desire to do more.

What’s a harried, over-worked, time-stressed leader to do?

6 Ideas for Improving Your Leadership Effectiveness On the Fly:

We all have a finite number of minutes in our lives and days and while one important approach to consistently improving performance is to carefully select the use of those minutes (meetings, meeting length, downtime, task priorities), another is to find the way to use every minute more effectively. While the description here may sound subtle, the impact can be profound.

1. Prepare your attitude to be a real-time leader. Walk in the door intent ready to solve issues and create value for your team members on the fly.  This is a very different attitude than walking in the door, strapping ourselves into our seats and firing up our calendars and then navigating the day according to other people’s priorities.

2. Don’t bank (save up) feedback-spend your feedback in real-time. A thoughtful, behavioral sidebar after a meeting or instant guidance in a one-on-one setting makes great use of your contact time.

3. Respond to “can we meet?” questions with, “Can I help you now?” answers. For some reason, many employees feel compelled to meet as part of their attempt to gain support, persuade or highlight a vexing issue.  A manager’s tendency to say “sure,” and then pull up the calendar forestalls an opportunity and reduces effectiveness.

4. Use my “3 Key Questions” early and often.  What’s working? What’s not? What do you need from me to help you make it work?  Then do it.

5. Teach your team to focus on the core. Structure your communication activities with your team members (groups and individuals) to constantly emphasize business priorities and to encourage people to “just say no” to issues that are not core to achieving priorities.  Of course, you should create mechanisms to capture feedback, gauge performance, identify and communicate lessons learned and capture innovative ideas.  Nonetheless, emphasize focus on the core.

6. Teach and delegate decision-making. I’ve written on this extensively, and an effective decision-making culture that facilitates making the calls close to the action is critical for improving real time performance.  One of your best responses in this process to inquiries on “What to do?,” is, “What do you think you should do?”

The Bottom-Line for Now:

While I am always reluctant to encourage a transactional culture, if the quality of the transactions improves, you are doing your job.  This approach to “leading in the moment” doesn’t preclude the need to find deep-thinking, big-picture group and one-on-one time, but it does challenge YOU to be more efficient every possible minute.

There’s little chance we’ll find more hours in a day, but you absolutely have the ability to make each and every minute count just a bit more.