Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. ~Abraham Lincoln
I am always amazed, and a little saddened, as I observe how hectic the average day is for most senior executives. Many get up early to attend to overnight emails, try to get in a bit of exercise, have a fleeting breakfast with the kids, then get to the office, where the treadmill begins. Look at just about any senior executive diary (day planner) and you will most likely find back-to-back meetings scheduled from the minute they walk in till the janitor turns out the lights.
I understand that most executive work is done in meetings. But here’s my question:
When do senior executives have time to think?
To mull things over? To put the pieces together? To internalize the lessons of the day? To make plans for the future?
The most precious commodity in business is not money, it’s quiet time to think!
Remember in the early school years when there was “quiet time” twice a day in the class room? Some kids would take a nap, others would day dream, some would draw or colour, some read a book. Maybe we need “Quiet Time” in the executive day as well!
Without time to think things through, to follow up hunches, to explore nagging suspicions, to critically evaluate data, it is easy to make poor decisions. And senior executives are supposed to make decisions, to point the way, to settle arguments, to give direction. In the past when the business world wasn’t changing as rapidly as it is now, decision making could be stretched out in order to delve a little deeper, to have some important thinking time. Today’s fast pace of business and growing global competition makes speed the currency of success. But poor decisions made quickly are still poor decisions.
This is a true story. One CEO client was so frazzled with back to back meetings that when one of his direct reports wanted to speak to him, he asked him to come into the restroom for a talk since that was the only free time he had! Needless to say the direct report left the company.
A few CEO’s and senior executives I have known over the years have carved out thinking time during their day. Some demand that their executive assistant (or themselves if they manage their own calendar) schedule 15 minutes of “think time” in between meetings. Others set out “no meetings” time during their day in order to process information and think things through. At various times I invite senior executives to my house in France, which is miles out in the quiet countryside, for a weekend just to spend some quality time thinking about their business, their team, their strategy, and other important aspects of their business that deserve some real “think time”.
Do you have enough (any) think time during the day? If not, I suggest that you may actually be destroying business value without even knowing it. Activity is a poor substitute for effectiveness.
“Whatever else the real work of leadership involves – and it is constantly changing – it always involves one crucial component. That component is thinking.” ~Abraham Zaleznik
Tight Lines . . .
John R Childress