One of the best parts of my job is being able to work with senior leaders and business executives as a coach to help them achieve more of their goals, chart their career course and build stronger, more accountable teams around them. Each individual is unique; they face different challenges, have different opportunities and different sets of patterns, habits and experiences. After literally thousands of coaching conversations, however, several themes have emerged. One of the most common themes I see is the gap between what a person would like to happen, and what they have planned to make happen. Often people will have the intention to make a change, do something different, be more strategic, spend more time with their people or less time on the chaos and they will clearly state those intentions. A question I often ask at that point is does your calendar look significantly different for the next month than it did for the last month in terms of what it prioritizes? Awareness and intention are the first steps to change but sometimes it stops there and the calendar is often a very accurate reflection of whether change is being implemented or simply hoped for.
On a few occasions, I have had the opportunity to actually shadow leaders as they go about their job and it quickly becomes evident what their priorities actually are based on the way they spend their time. It’s very easy to see any gaps between stated priorities and evident ones. But job shadowing is not always possible in a coaching environment and the next best thing is to take a look at the calendar. Here are a few things to think about as you take a look at your intentions as a leader and compare that to your schedule.
Isolate the gaps
If I say I want to be a strategic thinker about the business, or help my people with the greatest amount of potential, or create a culture change on my team, or focus more on the future than I do on just putting out fires, where does my calendar tell a different story? Have I scheduled time to do any of those things going forward. It’s important to understand the changes you want to make as a leader but immediately afterward you have to schedule time to make those changes happen. One of the most common struggles I hear is that I don’t have time to lead differently because I’m just getting through the day. The first step to fixing that is put time on the calendar to do something different. If you can’t do it next week, do it the week after that or next month but there must be some time in the future that isn’t already filled with something else. Block it, schedule it, label it now so that we start to carve time for what we say is really important.
Use the “Big Rocks” metaphor
Almost everyone now has heard the story about how you can get more in a jar if you put the big rocks in first than if you let it fill up with sand and pebbles and water before putting the big rocks in. It’s a common analogy that people use to illustrate that the important things only get done if we schedule it first. It’s a little misleading, sometimes we can’t just rearrange the rocks, we actually have to get rid of a few. When there are things on our schedule ahead of time, it’s not that we don’t ever change them or move them or allow them to shift because something urgent comes up, but as humans our behavioral patterns cause us to do different things if we more concretely plan different things to do. We are simply more likely to make changes, shift how we spend our time, focus on different things if we think consciously about them ahead of time rather than just let the days get filled up with whatever comes our way. If we put a meeting on the calendar next month to discuss or review a strategic plan for the future to our team, we will usually focus on it more between now and then and cause ourselves to actually have a strategic plan. We will discuss it with others, make time to think about it, write some things down and in general, be more strategic because we simply put being more strategic on the calendar by planning the meeting.
Plan out as far as you need to
Leadership is about the future. As you look at whatever scheduling device you use one of the challenges is that when we look at the near future it’s already booked and there’s not a lot of opportunity to make much happen differently. We have scheduled meetings, projects that have to be completed and commitments to keep. But there are very few of us that can’t look a month or two months or even six months out and find time to make changes. Ironically, wanting to get it on there helps us be creative about our shorter term window. If we haven’t spent time with a high potential employee but all of our time has been spent with the poor performer on our team, and we look at our calendar with the intent to change that then maybe lunch next Thursday is possible after all. If we never look at our calendar to align our intent with our time, we never find that opportunity. If we absolutely cannot fit that in then scheduling a monthly lunch with that person starting three months from now and continuing for six months after that will still yield different and better results over the next year.
Aligning our calendar with our beliefs about how we should lead is really just taking advantage of our ability as humans to change habits and patterns only if we first think about things consciously rather than deal with them reactively. It’s about choosing a different future because only then are we capable of figuring out how to make a different future happen. It’s about setting goals and making plans because it causes us to think differently and that changes behavior today even if the goal is a year or two out there. Write down your leadership intentions for the future, then look at your calendar and see if the two match. If they don’t, well that’s where that whole road paved with good intentions saying comes from. Time is all we have to create change with. What we do with it matters.
Leading Through Influence
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