Working Hours

This month's contentious statement is: "Nothing will limit a leader's potential career contribution faster than seeing it from the perspective of 'hours spent'."

I believe this to be true from both an organization's perspective as well as the individual's. I'll start by picking on the organizational side of things. 

It seems to me that many organizations are driven by the fear that they won't get value for their leadership dollars if they don't take some measure to ensure their leaders are "in office" at least 40, 50, ...hell 80 hours a week.  At some level, leaders (and other knowledge workers), in spite of being "salaried", end up being treated like assembly line workers whose only opportunity to add value is to be physically present in the work place. Moreover, those who are really career aggressive and "get it", devote their lives to their work, often at the expense of family time and "me" time. They are seen as committed by their organizations.  I see them as inefficient and incredibly poor role models standing in line at the "burn out" buffet.

Inspiration, creativity, innovation - all are key components of exceptional leadership and all have relatively little functional relationship with "time spent".  In fact, I would wager that most truly great ideas or epiphanies occur when NOT engaged at work, but rather when the mind is at rest. Author David Rock built an entire coaching program on the idea that distracting the conscious mind allows the subconscious mind to come up with the desired solution.

But witness a "leader" mediating in his office, and derision is far more likely a reaction than devotion!  Somehow we have not made a meaningful transition from the mentality of time spent versus value added, even in those positions we specifically compensate around the premise of "value added".  Paradoxically, the more organizations demand that their leaders fulfill a certain specific time commitment, the more intellectual "value" they may be missing out on.

Thankfully, when truly value added changes are required, organizations can turn to external consultants.  Have you ever wondered about this? I am making up that an organization's leaders are too busy going to meetings, shuffling paper and administering to actually generate new ideas and implement them, so they hire outsiders with less knowledge of the organization and its business to come up with solutions to the issues and opportunities facing the organization. Leaders within the company are to busy to lead change so they hire it out!

I wonder what would happen if organizations set a different expectation for their leadership teams.  An expectation that while at work, every leader would have to book a minimum of two hours of "thinking or dreaming" time. (I acknowledge you can't force good ideas to show up, so I am stating this to make a point.) I know some of this time would be "wasted" with little to show except for the inevitable grumbling of those who are addicted to the alluring tangibility of administration work.  I also believe that some of this time would result in some hugely value adding ideas, innovative approaches and tangible improvements to existing systems. What progressive organization is willing to put the following statement on the walls of its office?  "Got a vexing problem to solve? Just chill and allow the solution to come to you."

The Employee Perspective
Of course organizations aren't the only ones who crave objectivity and tangibility in assessing contribution.  Many employees do as well and again - what better measure than hours spent? "I put a lot of time into that project." or "I worked overtime every night for a month to get this done".  Notice how all of these sorts of statements reflect effort rather than outcome or even efficiency? I can't recall the last time I heard someone say: "I was relaxing in the shower and it occurred to me that we are looking at this thing the wrong way..."

I think as long as leaders satisfy themselves with time spent as a measure of success, they are actually embracing a process of self limitation.  The true value added proposition of their work is not time dependent.  The true value adding proposition of leadership is to chart new territory, take risks, advance the cause, inspire dedication and seek continuous (and even revolutionary) improvement in everything and everyone, including self. If you don't have "time" to do that, then perhaps you are focusing on what Stephen Covey would classify as the "urgent and unimportant".

I think that organizations and the individuals within them often are guided by fear rather than a sense of meaningful contribution and growth.  Fear is not being seen as "busy". Fear is not being needed.  Fear is not being accepted.  Fear drives us towards tangibility and tangibility is best satisfied by metrics.  Time spent is easily measurable.  It is unfortunate that for leaders, it isn't all that meaningful.

 

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