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Executive Corner – TIME: It’s a Leader’s Currency

Michael Clegg | 08/05/2022

Let’s face it; if leading is a verb, it requires action. Most leaders have many competing priorities. Most know the adage that if you have many priorities, you have none.  Time is the scarcest resource that leaders have. In today’s post-pandemic and tight labor market kind of world, the challenges are swirling around us daily. Each day we must choose wisely where we spend our time. Looking at revenue-producing tasks where the time should be spent is easy. 

However, it’s much simpler than that. 

Everything starts with leadership. Leaders drive culture, and culture drives behaviors, and those drive results. A leader’s primary role is to get the most out of those around them. The only way to accomplish this is to spend time with your team. There is nothing more important than developing them. You will find the greatest return on your scarcest resource, your time, by developing people. This means that regardless of all the different challenges that you have, you MUST prioritize people.  

The challenges pictured to the left are real. They are disrupting the world of work and making a leader’s role more challenging than ever. Companies that identify tactics to meet the needs and expectations of workers and use these insights to develop plans focused directly on these needs will win. Those companies will win the battle of great culture and high retention. 

An older study of more than 32,000 employees, executives, and managers found that six hours a week with your direct reports appears to be the magic number. The data shows that significant benefits were found as the time spent with “the boss” increased from one to six hours. Engagement increased by 30%, and inspiration increased by 29%. When the time went above six hours, there was a flattening and even a decline in some areas. I understand if you see that number and go, “oh crap, I have ten direct reports; that’s 60 hours a week with my team. When will I have time for my primary job duties?” I understand and do NOT feel you must do six hours with each person weekly. Start with one hour per person. Having meaningful relationships is key to all engagement and retention. Additionally, you are in the wrong role if you don’t think spending time with your team is your primary responsibility. Spending time with your team collectively leads to better results because it clarifies expectations and sets a tone for your desired results. It helps you build trust, which leads to psychological safety. 

A lot of data says each leader should have no more than seven direct reports. Due to limited resources, many small businesses become increasingly challenging to have only seven direct reports. Yet, we cannot deny that the more time we spend with our direct reports, the stronger the relationship. I have found a direct correlation between those I spend more time with and their performance. I have witnessed what the data shows. The more time with people, the higher the engagement. The higher the engagement, the higher the retention. The higher the retention, the performance grows over time.

Many leaders are fearful that a multi-generational workforce is partially responsible for this requirement of their time. It is not true that the Millennials and Gen Z want more time from leaders than previous generations. All generations wish to help with identifying their purpose. The younger generations will not stay in a job if they don’t find it where previous generations didn’t change careers as often. Therefore, spending time with your team will help you connect their work with their purpose.

I have found that it helps me break my time up into categories when planning what each work week looks like. 

Aligning my Time:

1.     My first goal is to plan the time on my calendar with my team. I have a weekly 1×1 with my direct reports and a monthly 1×1 in skip-level meetings. A skip-level meeting is where I meet with those that report to my direct reports. The last session I have twice a year is called a “stay interview.”  A stay interview is a straightforward conversation with employees identifying why they stayed, when was the last time they considered leaving our organization, and the reason. 

2.     Next, I plan time with my customers. It is essential to protect the business that we currently have and to continue to find new clients to continue our growth and expansion. We are in the service industry and must exceed certain performance levels to ensure our value is significant. Not meeting with clients can be highly detrimental to our organization.

3.     I spend a good portion of my week on growth and improvement. This is where I work on improving the services that we currently provide. My most significant challenge with this bucket is it is a proactive function that can be negatively impacted by reacting to crises. Reactive tasks steal time away from processes that improve the future.

All three areas are focal points where I spend my time every week. I didn’t list administrative or other duties that tend to come up daily. I tend to take care of these tasks early or later in the evenings. I have tried to do a better job of limiting these functions to higher value activities and passing lower value activities to other resources. It is a work in progress, and continuous improvement is a core value that we strive for every day.

Finally, the time spent with your team truly invests in your company’s growth. If that is a priority, make more time for your team. It is your most incredible opportunity.  

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