Leadership on a (Time) Budget

"Time is neutral, but it can be made the ally of those who will seize it and use it to the full." — Sir Winston Churchill

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Are you busy? I am. It seems appropriate to talk about time in light of it being a new year. When I was a somewhat younger leader I attended many schools and read quite a few books on the subject of leadership. I discussed leadership issues with my peers and honed my skills managing the day-to-day issues that come up when you are dealing with people and their problems. But at that time I was single, and had considerably fewer responsibilities taking up my waking hours.

The paradox is that now that I have a family and many other activities on my plate, I have much more leadership responsibility and less time to study the art of leadership. It would be nice to take a couple days to digest the latest and greatest book on leadership theory and see what I could pull out and use on a daily basis, but I don't have that kind of time. My guess is that you don't either.

There are, however, a number of things that we can all do to keep our leadership skills sharp and continually improve on the basics. The most important is to maintain the leadership mindset. I am serious when I say I think about leadership every day. As discussed in earlier columns, Leadership (with a big "L") is not a word, it is a lifestyle. This mindset keeps you sharp and able to look for examples of leadership in your daily life. I equate it to having a tactical mindset. Have you ever walked through your house thinking about how you would clear it on a search warrant? It is the same principle. If you think about it daily, it sticks, so do it.

Let's start with Sunday, the day of rest. For those of you going to church, have you ever noticed all the examples of good and bad leadership in the Bible? If you are not of a Christian faith, every religion has great examples in their holy books. I had a preacher who, every Sunday for eight weeks, spoke to the congregation about Moses leading the Israelites through the desert and how we could use his leadership style at home and work. It was fascinating. There I was, thinking I would be bored in church, and for eight weeks he talked about my favorite subject.

Books are the most common way to learn about different subjects, but I have a difficult time really finishing one cover to cover now. Yet I still want to review the basics and pick up new ideas. I find shorter articles and some Internet content (like this column, for example) better for me to digest in the shorter periods of time I have. One former boss taught me to keep a "leadership file" of articles and such that I could look through in my spare time and pass on to others. There are also some great books on audio tape now that can be listened to on personal devices or in the car. The content doesn't have to be leadership specific, but I find that biographies of great leaders are sometimes more insightful and interesting.

Occasionally I get a chance to watch a good movie or TV show that is a case study in leadership, but, more likely these days, I will be watching a kid's show with my two-year-old. The little lessons of life applicable to leadership in these shows are amazing. One show was about a piano-playing octopus who was a band leader. He had to make a decision of doing something he always had wanted to do at the expense of the members of his band, who expected him to be at their concert. Is it a stretch? I don't think so. Have you ever had leaders who look out for themselves at the expense of their people? It may be simplistic, but it is a good reminder of what loyalty and responsibility mean.

Did anyone spend any time with their families over the holidays? I submit to you that watching families interact is a study in leadership. Being that so many personal and emotional issues are at stake, people like my grandmother have quite a bit of leadership knowledge, although they may not call it that. Have you ever seen the acknowledged leader of a family defuse a tense situation with a quiet word?

So too, your time at work is a case study in leadership, or the lack of it, if you choose to pay attention and think about how the complex interactions of people are handled by the various levels of leadership. A thinking leader watches and learns what works and what doesn't when it comes to solving situational leadership issues; putting to practice what has been learned from school, books, or hard experience.

Yesterday I spoke to an old friend who mentioned he had been reading this column and appreciated me putting into writing what he does. I laughed because he was right; he always did put his leadership into action. It was also a reminder that Leaders need to bond and exchange ideas with like-minded Leaders in order to grow and stay sane. These discussions, mostly informal over a cup, are my favorite way to keep leadership at the forefront of my life.

Resolve to learn from the world around you and Lead the way!

Happy New Year.

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