How CEOs Manage Time

“That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.”

This wise observation is attributed to poet Emily Dickinson, the famous reclusive writer who lived her entire life at her family home in Massachusetts. She did not hold or attend meetings, deal with email, supervise employees or seek to advance an agenda as a company CEO. Yet, Dickinson put her finger firmly on the most important point in business and in life: time is fleeting and it’s the most precious of all our resources in life. Time is, in fact, the “stuff” that life is made of!

This point also is front and center in a new article, “How CEOs Manage Time,” in the July-August issue of Harvard Business Review. The article summarizes a study of CEOs at 27 large companies for 13 weeks by Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria and Harvard Business School Professor Michael E. Porter.

Nohria and Porter note that being a CEO is challenging and that effective time management is key because stakes are high. “The success of CEOs has enormous consequences—good or bad—for employees, customers, communities, wealth creation and the trajectory of economies and even societies. Being a CEO has gotten harder as the size and scope of the job continue to grow, organizational complexity rises, technology advances, competition increases, and CEO accountability intensifies,” they write.

As the CEO of a mid-sized privately-owned company, I face many of the same challenges as CEOs at large, public companies but on a smaller scale and without the pressure of meeting shareholder expectations. Still, this study resonates with me and I’d to share a few article highlights for other CEOs who may not have time to read HBR and to add my two cents of course!

The job of CEO can be all consuming. Many CEOs spend nearly 10 hours each business day, plus close to four hours on both Saturday and Sunday attending to business. CEOs in the Harvard study also reported working 2.4 hours daily while on vacation. Many also travel for work, which means being away from family on many nights and even weekends.

How can CEOs keep their jobs from consuming them and destroying their families? The authors have several suggestions:

  • Make time for personal well-being, including health, fitness and rest. If you’ve read my book, “The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership,” you know I’m firmly committed to personal work/life balance. That’s why I take time to every morning to exercise, meditate, visualize, read/write, and spend time with my kiddos before heading to the office.
  • Make time for family. In The 100, I’ve shared before how the annual fishing trips with my dad before he died are responsible for some of the most precious memories I have of him. Since then, my wife Linda and I have instituted Second Sunday Family Dinners at our place. This includes my mom, our siblings and their kids. Because it’s the same day every month it’s been easier for family members to make it part of their regular schedule.
  • Avoid the lure of e-email. Whatever your email of choice, use the spam features to help manage the avalanche of email overwhelming most CEO inboxes. I also recommend limiting the number of times each day that you check your email. Most critical: only handle a message once versus letting it clog up your inbox or slip from your mind.
  • Be agenda driven. Note the authors, “A clear and effective agenda optimizes the CEO’s limited time; without one, demands from the loudest constituencies will take over, and the most important work won’t get done.”
  • Rely heavily on direct reports. This advice is golden. At Intertech, we use cascading daily huddles to ensure all have a chance to share status and to highlight any stuck items. Huddles “bubble up” and once it’s time for my daily huddle with my direct reports, I’m able to gain a clear understanding of what’s happening with key projects and clients without having to wade into the weeds. We also build regular opportunities into our schedule for all-company meetings. And a variety of informal social gatherings provide a chance for me to talk with all employees, or at least those that would like to chat with me directly.
  • Make meetings shorter and more effective. I devote considerable time to the topic of meeting management in “The 100,” but this advice is a great summary!
  • Allow for accessibility and spontaneity. While it’s tough to be available on a moment’s notice as CEO, leaving a little room in your schedule for spontaneous conversations makes sense. As the authors note, “Spontaneity and accessibility enhance a CEO’s legitimacy. Leaders whose schedules are always booked up or whose EAs see themselves as gatekeepers and say no to too many people risk being viewed as imperious, self-important, or out of touch. EAs play a key role in finding the right balance here.”

I could go on, but you need to manage your time effectively too. If you can find the time, though, please check out my book for more tips such as these. The time you save will be invaluable.

Good Leaders Mentor

If you’re a leader, you’re also a teacher – whether you realize it or not. A recent Harvard Business Review article, “The Best Leaders are Great Teachers” by Sydney Finkelstein (Jan/Feb 2018) made me think more about this important role leaders share. For many of us, teaching others happens simply by setting examples (good or bad). That’s powerful and important, but taking an intentional approach is worth the time and effort too. In fact, Finkelstein, faculty director for the Center for Leadership at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, argues that taking an intentional approach to teaching within your organization will strengthen your staff and drive superior business performance.

This makes sense but how do you go about it? Organizational leaders are busy people and adding “teaching” to your already groaning “to do” list might sound daunting. But Finkelstein, who has studied world-class leaders for more than a decade, has found that it’s easier than you might suspect. He found that “teaching” can be defined broadly, falling into three main categories:

  1. Pointers on professionalism
  2. Technical knowledge
  3. Broader life lessons

He also found that many looked for opportunities on the fly, in addition to formal scheduled opportunities (such as annual reviews). Many also created teaching moments, often by taking protégés off-site for informal conversations in less stressful situations. I’m a big believer in setting a schedule, like meeting every quarter, to ensure consistency. And when it comes to teaching by example, nothing beats sticking to your scheduled appointments and respecting everyone’s time by starting and stopping as scheduled. I’ve developed a few teaching tips and mentoring techniques of my own over the years:

  1. If you’re an introvert, let the voice in your head come out (they can’t read your mind!).
  2. Recommend other thought leaders that can positively influence thinking. Whether it’s a book, course or other coaches, I always try to provide additional resources to inspire those I’m coaching or advising.
  3. Help other people in their network when possible, such as people who may report up to the person you’re coaching or teaching.
  4. Use your network and frequently ask, “who in my network might be able to help this person with what her or she is trying to achieve?”
  5. Remember that no relationship lasts forever. Know when you’ve imparted most of what you have to offer and be on the lookout for someone else who may be able to teach/inspire your mentee in new ways.

Finkelstein notes that leaders in his extensive study helped to make lessons “stick” by (1) customizing instruction to the needs, personality and development path of each individual, (2) asking pertinent questions to deepen learning, and (3) modeling the behavior they want others to practice.”

Here’s my practical advice to those seeking to maximize the benefits of a mentoring relationship:

  1. Listen and don’t be defensive.
  2. Take notes. It shows you’re taking things seriously.
  3. Follow-up on action items.
  4. Do what you promise or clearly explain why you did not.
  5. Say thank you in a meaningful way. In most cases, your mentor has more than enough money and doesn’t need a gift. Most people, however, are hoping to make an impact. Let your mentor know that he or she did and how that is making a difference in your life or career.
  6. Pay it forward. Look for someone you can teach or mentor and pass along the valuable lessons you’ve learned yourself!

 

Using Goals for Getting the Life You Want

If you’ve read, The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership, you know I dedicate a section to life goals.  Below’s summary of my thoughts on values, goals, and an outlook on life.

Values

How do you define what matters most? Imagine your funeral.  For me, what roles in my life would I want mentioned (e.g. father, son, husband, professional, volunteer, etc.)?  What do I want to create?  What do I want to give?  At its core, this exercise really comes down to defining values. Values bring meaning to our lives and provide guidance for goals.

Goals

Goals transform vision to reality.  Here are a few practical tips:   Write goals down, break them down into daily/monthly steps.  Review daily.

Outlook

As shared by Tony Robbins, one of the best ways to change how we feel is to “Replace expectation with appreciation.”

Here’s to an awesome 2018 and beyond!