Quality Thinking: The other work of leadership

 “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”   ~Voltaire

We have only to look at the hassled faces of today’s senior executives and scan their daily calendars to realize the majority of time is spent in back-to-back meetings.  Meetings often start early in the morning and end late in the evening, with executives running from one to the next, barely taking time for toilet.  It’s not that meetings are inappropriate places to conduct executive level business and well conducted meetings can accomplish a lot.  Our concern is that too often meetings are not used for arriving at decisions, collective debate or alignment, but are hijacked by time wasting activities that add little value to the product or the customer.

A 2004 article in the Harvard Business Review by Michael C. Mankins entitled Stop Wasting Valuable Time (HBR, Sept. 2004) cites some startling statistics about the use of time among the senior executive team.  Analysing the meeting diaries of senior team members from 187 companies worldwide (with market capitalizations of at least $1B).

“The typical company’s senior executives spend less than three days each month working together as a team – and in that time they devote less than three hours to strategic issues.”

What hijacks the majority of the time they spend together in meetings?  According to Mankins valuable time is wasted by unstructured processes that address business critical issues in an undisciplined manner.  While he introduces examples of seven techniques that can bring some discipline, consistency and effective decision making into senior executive meetings, he stops short of looking at the entire senior team as a system and examining their leadership processes in a robust way.

When processes are ad hoc and undocumented, valuable executive team time is taken up either with explanations or debates on issues which, if the leadership processes were effectively designed, documented and adhered to, would never make it on the agenda.  More time would then be available for quality discussion, quality thinking and decision making.  In an HBR article entitled Real Work, published in 1989, Abraham Zaleznik writes:

“Whatever else the real work of leadership involves – and it is constantly changing – it always involves one crucial component. That component is thinking.”

I believe that better designed leadership processes at the top will actually free up senior management time for more quality thinking – alone and together – in their important role as stewards of the company.   If we can improve the amount of quality thinking time senior leaders have, we can also reduce their dependence on outside consultants – after all, who knows more about the company, its strengths, the culture, its customers and the overall business than the senior team?  Being able to spend quality time talking together about their business and also have more time for individual thinking can have an enormous impact on the success of the enterprise.

Efficient and well designed leadership processes can release valuable time for quality thought and debate about real business issues.

Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?                     ~Winnie the Pooh

Tight Lines . . . 

About johnrchildress

John Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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One Response to Quality Thinking: The other work of leadership

  1. Pingback: Leadership Think Time . . . | John R Childress . . . Rethinking

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