Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Busy is the new normal

“Good morning,” I often say when I answer the phone. “How are you today?”

Recently, the most common response is “Busy.” For many executives, it is a feeling and an action all wrapped up in one. The feeling is being full to very overwhelmed. The action is engaged and pushing forward. I have come to the conclusion that busy in the world of leadership is the new normal.

On one hand, I am not too surprised by this frequent response. We live in a society now that measures life by seconds and minutes, calendars and appointments, twitter feeds and text-messages. The more we have the better we are supposedly doing.

Furthermore, some people believe that the more running around we do the better we are as a leader. Managing by wandering around is so 1980’s. Now is the time for speed. The new role model for leadership in this decade is the fast and the furious. Multi-tasking at warp speed is expected by all.

Yet, today, I am thinking about an African quote I recently heard: “Western people have the watches; we have the time.” We forget some days in the midst of our hustle and bustle that watches, cell phones, and text messages do not always make life better. They do not save time. Instead, they absorb it.

This is particularly true as we enter this new month. More and more executives report to me that they are caught up in a reactive problem solving mode. The crisis of the moment consumes all energy. Furthermore, many employees are managing everything up the chain of command. They do not want to take the risk of making a decision and getting blamed for poor results or outcomes. And with many leaders operating at full capacity, there is little time for thoughtful dialogue and meaningful interaction. Most report to me that they just make a decision and rush to the next issue. In short, there is only time for busy.

From my perspective, it is time we reclaim our time as leaders. We need to get out of feeling overwhelmed and back to a feeling of balanced engagement. We need to not live a life so full of appointments and meetings that we can not think thoughtfully and plan gracefully. We need to incorporate into our lives thoughtful reflection and meaningful dialogue. We need to give ourselves permission to recuperate from extended periods of busy and develop a greater degree of resilience. From one who has learned this personally and from one who has seen this happening more and more in executive coaching sessions during the last ninety days, living busy for an extended period of time means living on empty. And empty is does not generate clarity, commitment, buy-in or ownership.

For us to reclaim our time we need to reclaim our perspective. The faster we go the more we become absorbed in the minutia of the moment. Tunnel focus is a reality that comes with busy. It can cause us to miss the greater context and the greater strategic direction of our lives and our organizations.

We must also accept that speed is addictive, busy is numbing, and full is draining. But we can change this. We can lead our lives. We can lead our organizations. We can regain a sense of balanced living. The first step is to no longer accept busy as an acceptable way of living. The second step is to redefine our priorities, especially our definitions of what is urgent and what is important. The third step is to take charge of our calendars and block out time for more in-depth dialogue and reflection. The fourth step is to give ourselves permission to rest when rest is needed.

When asked “How are you?” this week or next, I recommend you find a new answer, one that shares a feeling more than an action. We are, after all, human beings, not just human doings.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates # 319 - 643 - 2257

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