Why Great Leaders Are Not Busy

A common leadership myth involves the idea of being busy equates to being successful. If that were true, our never-ending, always-moving, ever-changing world would have very little audience to consume content on the topic of how to become successful.

The amount of results on a quick Google search for “how to become successful” tells us there is an abundance of people who don’t consider themselves successful, yet we continue to throw ourselves into life at breakneck speeds.

If the amount of space locked down and number of meetings stuffed into the calendar is the hallmark of success, then I would be the guru of success.

The reality is that I don’t feel successful. I feel downright exhausted.

And guilty.

Guilty I can’t get everything done.

Guilty my team has to practically beg to get quality time with me.

Guilty I stay later at work trying to get things done while my beautiful family waits for me at home.

Guilty I sit all day attending one Zoom meeting after another without getting up to physically move my body.

I could go on, yet I want to focus on the problem rather than the symptoms of the problem.

The problem is this: being busy destroys the ability to be successful.

Successful leaders are not busy. This doesn’t mean they don’t have busy times, as that can never be fully prevented. This means their life trend isn’t consistently busy.

Successful leaders aren’t driven to exhaustion by their calendar or other’s whims and needs. They protect their time and intentionally plan their day with flexibility for necessary, important, and urgent items.

Based on this definition of success, see if this truth bomb doesn’t knock your socks off: Slothful leaders are busy.

Ouch.

Anyone who lets the ones and zeros of their calendar, the gamification of social media, or the addiction of any curated app gobble up their day is not on the pathway to success.


So, if you’re like me and have a cloud of guilt hanging over your excessively busy head, I invite you to do these three things with me to lessen the busy and turn up the quality.

  • Charge it - Find ways to leave the smart phone on its charging port as long as possible. Habit experts tell us the beginning sets the trajectory for the outcome. If the beginning of your day involves reaching for your phone, it is highly likely a majority of your quality hours will be sapped by your phone. There’s a reason why documentaries such as Social Dilemma exist. One of my favorite quotes is, “If you aren’t buying a product, you are the product.” Don’t be the product. At least for the first few hours of the day, let your phone remain charging so you can positively charge the trajectory of your day.


  • Block it - The art of scheduling protected time is called calendar blocking by some, and time blocking by others. Whatever the preferred vernacular, the idea is the same: carve out time for important things, and include buffer time for the unexpected. You are only successful at the things you do. Therefore, if you want to be successful at having quality time with your team, block it off. If you want to become successful at making your body more healthy, block off time to exercise. Whatever your goals, you can’t reach them by simply hoping and pining. Do something about it and schedule it into your calendar.


  • Hold to it- The two previous ideas are all fine and good - if you actually follow through on them. If you’re like me, your plan sounds good as you approach your day with determination; then in the moment something comes up and personal subterfuge ensues. Your well-laid plans are rationalized away by the urgent and immediate and at the end of the day the guilt and exhaustion are back. Will power only lasts for so long; even (and especially) leaders need external accountability. Find a friend, colleague, mentor, counselor, or someone with whom you have consistent check-in points to hold you accountable. This involves intense vulnerability. It can get ugly. But the end result is worth it.

Will you join me?


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