Warning: we are Busy bee leaders!

Warning: we are Busy bee leaders!

Leaders are also judged by the experience they give to their stakeholders or only the financial impact on the organisation?

"I get 200 emails per day," lamented my colleague when I pointed my emails going unanswered. "We are not CEO’s, only labour class," she replied with sarcasm. I felt guilty that we had created a world like that for her but could offer no solution to her inbox issues.

Business Statistics site DMR reports that an average worker gets 121 emails per day. We all know how many such can be humanly answered.

One of our GMs promptly used to leave the office at 6 PM even though most of us could never finish work before 9 PM. He was running the most successful businesses at that time and role model for many. We used to frown at his back and bickered that it must be easy to be in a leadership position like him, as most of us at the bottom of the pyramid were slogging for him. A few years later, he took on a struggling business that was making massive losses. We saw his intensity increasing but never saw 2 AM emails or weekend working. In about 2 years, we saw that business turning around to be a jewel for the organisation. He never complained of bandwidth or pressure, whenever we met him we saw him as a great leader with high energy, new plans and he gave lots of practical advice and best practices to us. He used to say, “Double down deep, don’t expand too much.”

External Impact

“I will take the call on the way to the airport,” I told my colleague. She promptly organized the call. That was my way of optimizing my busy schedule. I had to interview a prospective employee for the organisation. The call dropped multiple times thanks to the network, and then we were stopped by cops as the cabbie was over speeding; I had to get down to intervene. We finally reached the airport after these interventions and concluded the call as I got off the cab. She promptly texted me a few hours later, stating she did not want to pursue a role with us further.

I felt embarrassed reading her long text, which said the experience left her feeling less valued on who she was. She counted that call dropped 7 times, and the numerous breaks meant it was a call done to fit into my busy schedule than evaluating the fitment with any real intent. If the role were important, we possibly would have been sensitive on how we went about scheduling and conducting the interview. I could only apologise and let her move on. Was she overreacting, or were we plain insensitive? Were we acting like a large corporation? I was left thinking how little things can make a positive difference... but her feedback was indeed helpful advice.

Internal Acceptance

It was day one of the new sales guys in the office, and When I met him in the evening for his induction, he mentioned his boss, the sales head, is yet to meet him. He said he has been busy with client calls since morning. Though they had a scheduled call, it had to be postponed. He wasn’t complaining. He said as a sales guy, I understand that clients come first. I am sure you must have seen many joinees loitering around the office waiting for the busy senior colleagues to meet them. Is the organisation at fault for making the leaders busy or accepting the culture of leaders being busy?

On another occasion, we missed a press release deadline. My marketing associate said he couldn’t find enough time on his calendar and was stretched to meet the pre-decided deadline.

Should we argue that the above 2 examples, thought different contexts, might be outliers to many meetings held timely and deadlines being met? Quite possible!

However, there are many signals one gets about the poor experiences that impact lives of employees and customers get because your leaders are always busy?

The Signs

How do you know that the organisation is affecting the experiences of its key stakeholders like employees, customers, and partners?

  1. When your leaders are not available most of the time and you find them continuously saying, “I am busy, bandwidth Nahi hai.”
  2. Leaders missing deadlines, Not turning up for meetings, taking ages to respond to emails or WhatsApp’s
  3. Their reportees constantly crying to get their leaders time and sending "gentle reminders"
  4. Constant rescheduling of reviews/meetings
  5. Phones always busy, and the call backs taking its own sweet time

How I wish there was a comprehensive book or a pocket guide on these signs for new leaders to use as a desk reference. Would call that a Busy Leader's Handbook!

The Outcome

Could the following be the predictable outcomes when we have busy leaders?

a)  Low engagement

b)  Low productivity

c)  High Attrition

d)  Customer loss

HBR says

An HBR study, that can be a great training tool, plotted a Focus_Energy matrix which identified 4 types of behaviors in managers; disengagement, procrastination, distraction, and purposefulness.

While both focus and energy are positive traits, neither alone is sufficient to produce the kind of purposeful action organizations need most from their managers and their team members. Poor time management and focus without energy devolves into listless execution or leads to burnout. Energy without focus dissipates into purposeless busyness or, in its most destructive form, a series of wasteful failures. Building high-performance companies requires not just the best talent but also smart leadership decisions and employee engagement.

This study exemplified that only 10% of the managers spend time in purposeful activities, 30% spend time in procrastination, 20% are disengaged, and 40% are distracted. So, now you know how 90% of managers are busy although they dutifully perform routine tasks—attending meetings, writing emails, making phone calls, and so on—they fail to take the initiative, raise the level of performance, or engage with strategy. These people coast along in the chronically passive state that psychologist Martin Seligman called it “learned helplessness.”

Proportion of meaningfully engaged senior executives seems to one of the common business challenges for organizations of all sizes!

Describing Busy

If you find yourself jumping from meeting to meeting, dousing fire after fire, checking countless Emails/WhatsApp’s constantly, making or taking countless calls, feel like taking a vacation every month or sense perpetual need for a deputy to manage half of what you are doing, then you are like me, one of the proud and busy leaders.

The question we need to ask ourselves is if we are distracted, disengaged, or a procrastinators or want to be like one of my GMs described in the beginning, a purposeful good leader with high energy and high focus all through his years of experience.

When I started my career, I found myself busy learning the job. When I worked for a start-up for the first time, I felt there weren’t enough resources and we stretched till we collapsed. When I became a manager for the first time in an MNC leadership role, I worked long hours to show efforts give results, and when finally I became a CEO, I was busy traveling, and then as an entrepreneur, I choose to be busy working 80 hours a week and training to become a better leader.

Pre-Covid I spent 2 hours a day traveling and now in remote working, I still end my day at 8 pm.

Maybe I chose the wrong set of employers or roles


I like to be a busy bee?

You may also like