Isn't It Time to Rethink Time?

By Jay Steven Levin, The Complete Leader faculty

"The trouble is...
you think you have time!"
- Unknown

When time becomes the transactional measure of merit you'd think the more we have of it the more valuable we become - to others and ourselves. Not!

Every day we hear self-important boasts declaring how busy we are, how little time we have, the degree of demand we are under, and how much others need us. The lens of time in these cases has become refracted. Our value propositions have become distorted. The less time we have and the more we are doing, the more important we promote ourselves to be. We brag about our lack of time and wear our weariness pinned to our chests like so many shiny medals of honor decreeing the rank of our productivity.

However, in most cases our actual output is not what it could be.

Adding to the irony of it all; those around us are so consumed by their own business that they're hardly aware or care about the level or the quality of what we are doing or the time it takes us to do whatever we're doing. In such situations, an even more absurd contortion happens in the workplace. A general misperception of work reality occurs. We confuse activity for leadership.

Big mistake.

When leaders confuse activity for leadership, leaders become managers. And as managers their focus is on doing things right. Iterative, lean processes with more touch points to insure rules are followed become de rigueur! The process of Design Thinking can be helpful in these situations to encourage us to get closer to the experience at hand, which is how we think about and use time - to ask the right questions. What is? What if? What wows? What works?

Still our biases influence our thinking, affect our judgment and impact our outcomes - especially when time is valued by how busy we are because of our overload rather than how free we've become because of how smartly we've applied our new thinking of time.  Leaders who have become the managers they think they have to be, instead of leaders they could be, are unable to see time differently. They cognitively can't, though they think they can.

It's a shame we can't see what's right under our nose. The evidence is found in how busy our teams are and how little time is spent planning and organizing activities before the doing begins. But who among us has time to think and plan strategically when doing anything but doing brings on the collywobbles? Eventually we will have to question our thinking about time.

  • The solution shift starts when we as leaders start looking differently at time and at how our teams spend their time.
  • We can look differently at the demands our teams place on other team members' time.
  • We as leaders can look differently at the examples we set - for others to rethink how they think - about time.
  • Are we as leaders asking the critical "what is," time question? Are we encouraging our people to explore how they use their time? Are our people asking their teammates how they can better understand time and then apply it?
  • When we answer those questions, we can follow a classic Design Thinking path and ask "what if," questions followed by "what wows," questions. Then we can follow this path by rolling our findings into a "what works," inquiry for all involved.

If this sounds complex, it really is not. It's just setting a radically different perspective on how time is understood by the key people we are dependent on for success.

Management guru, Peter Drucker sums up simply, "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things."

Isn't it time to rethink time? Isn't it time to stop confusing activity for leadership?

We leaders should be leading, not managing and we should set better examples for our rising stars about how to think more creatively about time.

...Your leadership success may depend on it.