Mark Sanborn, the leadership expert and professional lecturer, may nail topics on C-Suite Predictions, but when it comes to universal concepts of the passage of time, John Lennon has him beat.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
A lyric from “Beautiful Boy,” which he wrote for his son, is a line that has stayed with me for decades. As our culture has grown ever more complex, it’s relevance has only increased.
Today, everyone seems preoccupied with the “crisis of the moment;” there’s never enough time for considering tomorrow or future possibilities. Instead, executives are consumed with daily fire fighting — worrying about quarterly results, balancing conflicting priorities and managing time constraints. We might have become excellent firefighters in the last 35 years; however, we continue to experience multiple deficits – not enough time, less personal contact, fragmented relationships and concerns about our own true impact and relevance. How rarely do we consider what we can do to address this perception that life is passing us by? And by extension, how rarely do we help our employees feel like life isn’t passing them by?
At times, it appears that we’ve become captive to a world of perpetual distractions.
The key to achieving a higher level of leadership effectiveness is a topic Sanborn addresses in a recent article. In it, he explores the advantages of greater focus on the future, shifting your culture to create “next practices,” creating a sense of renewal, leading with confidence and rethinking old business models. Chief among his points include: capturing new ideas (by accumulating knowledge), deepening personal relationships, and striving to improve our own choices and personal performance.
But in some sense, what Sanborn’s list implies is more important than the items themselves. His list underscores the nature of true leadership effectiveness. He’s talking about being open to personal reinvention. Not for the sake of some perceived moral high ground, but for the practical need to remain relevant and to improve and increase your ability to have a meaningful impact.
This is where Sanborn’s magic moment lies. Your employees may not be maximizing their potential in how they lead your company (or themselves) at the moment. The question is, how can you as a leader inspire and coach them to increase their engagement, focus and time management to achieve greater coherence and results in their professional and personal lives.
I think it’s fair to say that, in order to lead others through this important transformation, the change leadership process must first begin within each of us. In today’s multigenerational workforce, Gallup reports employee engagement at just 31.5% in 2014. While this is an improvement over prior years manufacturing and service workers were at 23% and 28.2% respectively. Millennials report engagement levels at 28.9%.
In contrast managers and executives reported at 38.4% (still low, but significantly above their direct reports). What’s wrong with this picture… there appears to be a real disconnect? It is no wonder a recent global survey cites access to and retention of human capital as one of the top challenges facing CEOs.
My take on why this remains a challenge is this: As leaders we often experience a conflict between “where” we focus our time and energy without recognizing “what” truly matters. Instead, as leaders we must ask ourselves “where and how” can I have the greatest impact?
Research suggests that while excellent strategy and clear objectives are essential in driving performance there’s no substitute for human contact. This is where relationships develop, bonds are created, and where trust and shared commitment flourish. Nurturing these relationships must be a top priority for organizations to achieve coherence, common purpose and for teams to excel
This is a time of economic resurgence, of unprecedented Millennial mobility, historic Baby Boomer transitions, and the race for global talent. Leaders, who take the time to reflect on their own effectiveness and openly assess their impact and re-balance their priorities with consideration for the needs of the team, will experience greater fulfillment and success.
In my opinion, this is a time of real risk or significant opportunity, depending upon your mindset. Leaders who recognize the need to “look in the mirror”, re-balance and lead with a genuine commitment to supporting and developing others will realize a unique advantage.
Doing so will ensure that life is not what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans, but what’s happening to you while you’re making and executing better plans — empowering and cultivating your future leaders and team to deliver exceptional results and enabling their personal growth.