Effective Time Management Is Key To CEO Excellence

A successful leader is one who can comprehend people’s motivations and what drives and inspires them. They understand how to recruit the participation of their employees in a manner that combines the interests and needs of the individual with the purpose of the group. Of course, this takes time and energy.

In 2018, Harvard Business Review published findings from a study that tracked how large companies’ CEOs spent their time. On average, they worked 9.7 hours per weekday, with many putting in nearly eight hours of work on the weekend. In total, the average number of hours worked came down to 62.5 hours a week. With so much to do and so many skills to master, it’s a wonder there is any time left over to sleep.

Why is this important? In my experience, there are time management techniques that CEOs can utilize in order to be more effective and productive leaders. And it’s not just CEOs that benefit either — whether you’re a project leader, a team leader or a division leader, other leaders often face the same types of challenges. Here’s how to make the most of every workday:

Rein in meetings.

That same Harvard Business Review report shows that 72% of CEOs’ work time in a typical week was spent in meetings. It’s in the CEO’s best interest to rein in those meetings, especially those that can be delegated. Of those that can’t be delegated, it’s advantageous to shorten the meeting times. Very often a one-hour meeting could be conducted in half that time with an increase in the quality of information conveyed. If the other participants know their time is limited, they’ll get to the point quicker.

Make time for you.

By limiting meeting time it also becomes easier to make space during the day for “alone time.” That block of time can now be used to work on setting future strategy goals and assessing the results of the current strategy. Planning is so important when molding a successful future-oriented organization.

Be an ambassador for the company’s purpose.

Being a CEO is comparable to being an ambassador in several ways. They are responsible for representing their company to customers, employees and the public in general. Diplomacy is necessary to ensure the smooth stewardship of the company.

Living the company values shows executives and employees alike that the company culture is a reality, not just pretty words in the employee handbook. In my work, I’ve met CEOs who truly embody the morals, ethics and ideals of their organization and it engenders honest respect and high esteem. I’ve also worked with CEOs who were very good about talking the talk (especially during meetings and company-wide presentations), but, in reality, failed to walk the walk. The deception is terribly transparent and corrodes the authority of that leader.

Overall honesty goes a long way toward creating and maintaining a value-driven organization. A skilled CEO understands that running a business with principles and integrity will ultimately result in a respected workplace where top-quality people want to work. That makes the recruitment of quality hires a more straight-forward process. It also creates an environment conducive to the retention of valuable personnel.

In their McKinsey & Company report, “The Mindsets and Practices of Excellent CEOs” authors Carolyn Dewar, Martin Hirt and Scott Keller note, “Excellent CEOs spend time thinking about, articulating, and championing the purpose of their company as it relates to the big-picture impact of day-to-day business practices. They push for meaningful efforts to create jobs, abide by ethical labor practices, improve customers’ lives, and lessen the environmental harm caused by operations.”

Prioritize face-to-face interactions.

The Harvard study found that face-to-face interactions took up 61% of CEOs’ work time — and for good reason. “Face-to-face interaction is the best way for CEOs to exercise influence, learn what’s really going on, and delegate to move forward the multiple agendas that must be advanced,” wrote the authors of the study, Michael E. Porter and Nitin Nohria. “It also allows CEOs to best support and coach the people they work closely with. How a CEO spends face-to-face time is viewed as a signal of what or who is important; people watch this more carefully than most CEOs recognize.”

With such constrictions on the CEO’s time, it’s important to show employees and customers that you care about them; not just the profits. An effective CEO is empathetic and creates time for guiding and coaching. Since you set the example, if you stress the importance of these actions to your direct reports, it becomes easier for them to create the same environment and expectations for their direct reports. If you involve your associates, your employees, your customers and even the board in your vision for the company it encourages them to get on board sooner rather than later.

Don’t be afraid to delegate.

One extremely important skill to cultivate and nurture is delegation. I’ve worked with many CEOs who are good at their job. It’s not uncommon for them to believe they are the only person capable of handling every decision, every project and every problem. That’s how to get on the fast track to burnout.

When you have confidence in the people around you, assign them the work you know they can do and also assign them work that will stretch their abilities — otherwise, they’ll never develop. If you don’t learn to delegate effectively, you’re only hurting yourself. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

There are many skills and traits that make up a successful CEO, but like most things, it’s a work in progress. Everything is always changing — both you and your business. Make the most of the opportunities presented to you along the way by effectively managing your time.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes.

Equity And Accessibility In The Workplace

When we discuss and make plans to promote the important issues of diversity and inclusion there are a few concepts that consistently rise to the forefront of the conversation. While cultural, gender and age-related challenges and those of racial and sexual identity exclusion are often considered, some concepts tend to get regulated into the background. Two of those are accessibility and equity, but they are equally important to consider when implementing a comprehensive diversity initiative.

When you think of accessibility, what comes to mind? Ensuring your place of business complies with the American with Disabilities Act?

Has your company considered other factors, such as the importance of web accessibility? You may have employees with neurological, visual or mobility impairment that find it difficult to operate your company-specific software which puts them at a distinct disadvantage. It might be a temporary condition such as a broken arm that doesn’t allow the user to manipulate a mouse. These scenarios should be taken into account to ensure inclusion.

In Michael Bach’s book, Birds of All Feathers: Doing Diversity and Inclusion Right, he explains, “Accessibility is often forgotten about when speaking about diversity and inclusion, but it is the missing link. You can have the most diverse workforce and the most inclusive workplace, but if anyone experiences barriers to access—be they physical, institutional, societal, or the like—then you haven’t ensured inclusion for all.”

I once worked with a large corporation on their diversity challenges, and the director who was tasked with choosing the software the company would use for the HR department thought she had made the best choice and stood by her decision. I questioned whether she had considered accessibility when making her choice, and she seemed ruffled at my inquiry. A short two weeks later, after a car accident which resulted in her temporary inability to see fine detail, she understood my concerns in a very personal way.

Accessibility also applies to opportunities, equipment (perhaps modified), cross-training, mentoring and something as obvious as making the interview process accommodating to everyone. Does your interviewee need a closed-captioned interview? Make that possible! Can someone apply via a teleprinter or teletypewriter (TTY) conference? Why not?

A second important focus is equity, which is easily confused with equality. To understand the difference, it might help to think of equality as giving everyone a house to live in. Equity, however, is giving people in the tropics houses that feature good ventilation, windows with screens capable of keeping out mosquitos, and sufficient shade from the heat. In contrast, you would give people who live in arctic climates houses with good insulation and an efficient heating source.

Although equality is a vital goal to strive for and is certainly better than not trying anything at all to level the playing field, it is simply not enough. It doesn’t take into account the individual and personal nature of each person’s struggle to feel as though they’ve had a fair shake.

In his article “5 Reasons to Focus on Workplace Equity Alongside Diversity and Inclusion,” Chiradeep BasuMallick clarifies when speaking on the fairness of corporate entities whose policies only focus on equality: “Equity, on the other hand, attempts to identify the specific needs and requirements informed by demographic traits such as ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, etc. It then tries to address the differing needs of each group by bridging the gap between minority and majority groups. This makes equity central to the genuine empowerment of minority groups (and not just theoretical equality).”

When an institution offers equity in the workplace, word spreads, and that kind of publicity and goodwill can’t be purchased. Employee morale, productivity and employee retention increase while associates not provided with equity can clearly see the reason to desert the (soon to be) sinking ship.

If your company makes it quite clear that it understands that while few obstacles exist for some in the organization, many obstacles exist for others, it can be a great recruiting tool and a fantastic way to keep everyone motivated. Correcting for the obvious (and subtle) disparities between different individuals can make the difference between a slog through the workday — while the employee spends all his free time looking for other employment opportunities — and an inspiring, spirited, focused contribution to the company for a full shift.

A theme that neatly dovetails with the subset concepts of accessibility and equity in the workplace is one of our main goals: inclusivity. If employees don’t feel seen or heard, the results are disheartening. In my experience as a leadership coach, one of the most soul-sucking experiences for colleagues of all levels in an organization is feeling like a cog in the giant corporate machine.

In the book Inclusify: The Power of Uniqueness and Belonging to Build Innovative Teams, Stefanie K. Johnson offers this insight: “Faking who we are to fit in is exhausting and we feel most at ease when we can just be ourselves. Even more to the point, we want to know that our unique talents are valued and that our voice is heard and respected. When we feel that these two drives — uniqueness and belonging — are in balance, we feel included.”

We all want to feel that our contributions are important, respected and special. If our workplace allows us the basic respects of equity and accessibility, it allows us to feel proud of the work we do, and that is a basic need that must be fulfilled.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes.

How To Create Structure And Order In A Time Of Disruption

During a time of crisis or disruption, our first reaction may be to panic. It’s a completely natural, built-in human reaction. The flight-or-fight instinct kicks in — which is a helpful response to have if you want to avoid being dinner for a tiger, but not so helpful in an emergency situation where cooler heads must prevail. This is a very important component to successfully riding out the situation and getting through to the other side.

Don’t underestimate the value of structure and order in times of uncertainty. In the book The Art of Crisis Leadership, authors Rob Weinhold and Kevin Cowherd offer this advice: “When faced with an urgent situation, slow the process down and act nonemotionally. People often want to react with the same velocity with which crisis hits — do not. Slow the process down and make sound decisions that will benefit for many years to come.”

Here are some tips for how to introduce structure and order to your day in a time of disruption:

Establish a routine.

This helps to tame the anxiety, which in turn increases your productivity. It’s difficult to accomplish anything important if you’re constantly running in circles. Take a deep breath, or 10, and write out a list of what you need to accomplish. Focus on things that are in your control, not on things you can’t control. Determine the most crucial problem you face, and start there.

Make and follow a schedule.

Whether it’s hourly, daily, weekly, monthly or all of the above, it’s vital to keeping your sanity. Think realistically, and don’t overburden yourself — it will only cause your anxiety level to rise and your morale to fall.

Overcommunicate.

If you’re used to working in a large place of business with a great deal of human interaction and you now find yourself working from home, you’ll need to get that human interaction in a different way. It’s important to stay connected to family, friends and co-workers. If anything, overcommunicate. A lot gets lost in translation in email. Take advantage of video and telephone calls. There is so much more information you can deduce from tone of voice and facial expression.

Set up a quiet, uncluttered, positive place to work.

If you have a home office, that’s great, but if space is limited, the kitchen table may have to do. Set and enforce rules and time frames if you cohabitate. The people you live with will have to agree that you (and they) need some quiet time with no distractions.

Prioritize self-care.

Physical wellness is especially important when you can’t get to the gym or follow your regular exercise routine. If you sit at a desk all day, in a short while, your body will let you know with aches and pains caused by inactivity. Set a regular time to do some physical activity every day. Even if you only take a 10-minute break every hour to stand up and stretch, you’ll reap the benefits. Remember to eat at regular times. It’s easy to start grazing when you’re only a few steps from the refrigerator.

It’s also imperative to safeguard your mental health in a time of disruption. Think realistically and pace yourself. Take time out to meditate or read something inspiring. Watch a video that’s funny or inspirational. Celebrate your victories no matter how small they may seem. Work hard to bring new forms of joy into your life. Watch or read enough news to keep well informed, but don’t obsess over it or binge on it. That will only increase your anxiety as you worry about all the problems of the world. I derive a great deal of pleasure from simply eating dinner on the balcony.

In their article “How to Demonstrate Calm and Optimism in a Crisis,”Jacqueline Brassey and Michiel Kruyt offer this insight: “Self-care goes beyond making sure to have a good regimen of sleep, eating, and exercise. It is also about letting up on the self-criticism or perfectionism, to be able to connect with core intentions and purpose. Practicing this yourself also enhances your capacity to be empathetic with others.”

Seek out and provide inspiration.

Take some time to learn a new skill. Read those management articles you keep meaning to read. Make a list of all the positive things you can do to improve your career, and then actually schedule time for them on your calendar.

If you’re in a management position, spend the time it takes to inspire your people. Motivate them to be their best selves. Check on them often, and remember to ask them how their lives are going during the chaos. A little empathy goes a long way.

In Bill Tibbo’s book Leadership in the Eye of the Storm: Putting Your People First in a Crisis, he writes, “Implemented properly, a people-focused approach to crisis management will not only ensure the recovery process goes well, but can also lead to greater solidity and community than what existed prior to the crisis, including increased loyalty, decreased absenteeism, improved morale, and a strong cohesive team.”

Structure is a necessity when it comes to feeling in control and grounded. Give yourself the tools to weather this time of disruption.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes.

Recognizing Microaggressions

The chances are extremely high that during your lifetime you have experienced a microaggression, if not hundreds. Whether you’ve been the target, the victim or the microaggressor, we’ve all been there, and it’s not comfortable. We’d like to think there’s some perfect world, country, organization or team, but up until now, it’s a mythical place.

It would be wonderful if we could all live in perfect peace, harmony and cooperation, but until that happens, as human beings, we need to begin to consciously recognize the microaggressions that happen all around us every day. Until we train ourselves to really pay attention, listen and observe the interactions happening all around us, we won’t make much progress.

According to the authors of the book Microaggressions in Everyday Life, Derald Wing Sue and Lisa Beth Spanierman, “Microaggressions denote some sort of interpersonal interaction involving a perpetrator and a target (marginalized group member). Second, we must keep in mind the term ‘aggression.’ Most often, socials psychologists have defined aggression as verbal or nonverbal behavior intended to harm.”

Some of these comments or actions are overt, and sometimes they can be quite subtle — which only makes recognizing them more challenging. My interactions with people of many different races, gender identifications, economic levels and education levels, and the array of microaggressions I’ve witnessed, have been bewildering.

In my experience, the quickest way to identify a microaggression is when it is directed at you personally. At that moment, your gut reaction is usually correct. What’s left to assess is the level of the offense. How did it make you feel? Uncomfortable, weak, powerless, marginalized, or…?

I’ve had microaggressions directed at me that were bizarre (a male blatantly touching my hair without permission), obvious and demeaning (“Are you missing your family pet?”) and, in my younger days, deliberately hurtful (“You’re young yet, and you don’t get how the corporate structure works”).

Why any of these perpetrators would even let these dismissive words and acts occur is astounding.

When I give it further thought, my own transgressions over the years come to mind, and I can almost understand. Little looks and comments I have given colleagues, with no intention at the time of causing any harm, sometimes come back to me in widescreen and Technicolor. I believe they were not numerous, and perhaps not as dramatic as I remember, but with the passage of time, I can’t be sure.

The point is, I have learned to spend more time thinking about how my speech and actions might affect another. The more I reflect on that, I believe the less damage I unintentionally commit against everyone in my life.

One of the goals of recognizing microaggressions is to understand them from a different perspective. What follows this is education — your own and that of others — especially if they report to you. One needs to separate the event from the person, which helps take the accusatory tone out of the process.

If there is any ambiguity, ask the perpetrator to repeat what was said or done so they have a chance to review it at a slower speed. Remaining calm is a good starting point.

In her article for The New York Times, Hahna Yoon relates, “Discrimination — no matter how subtle — has consequences. In 2017, the Center for Health Journalism explained that racism and microaggressions lead to worse health, and pointed out that discrimination can negatively influence everything from a target person’s eating habits to his or her trust in their physician, and trigger symptoms of trauma.”

There can be many roadblocks to recognize and attempt to resolve the commission of microaggressions. As noted by Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran in their book Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions, “First, people sometimes think that this is political correctness run amok. They may think that people are being policed for the small things they say, and therefore it is impossible to speak about any challenging issues.”

Besides the roadblocks, there may be landmines disguised as opportunities. In her article for the American Psychological Association “Did You Really Just Say That?,” Rebecca A. Clay writes, “Don’t be fooled by microaggressions packaged as opportunities. When a particular group isn’t well-represented on campus, at work or anywhere else, well-intentioned authorities may keep turning to the same members of that group to speak on panels, serve on committees or mentor other members of their group, thereby overloading the minority students or staffers with all the minority-related work.”

Learning new ways of interacting with our fellow workers and friends is a daunting task for some, and mistakes will be made along the way. Whether you look different to some people or think differently or act differently should not affect your work and life opportunities. This is a serious subject that we can’t take lightly. Going forward, it will become only more important as we try to advance as a society, a culture and a workplace.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes.

How To Watch For Bias During Crisis

During times of crisis, the ongoing issues caused by bias are magnified. As fear and uncertainty increase for individuals or institutions, they can exacerbate existing biases or even induce new ones. As leaders, it is our responsibility to control these inherent biases from spinning out of control.

Many of the predispositions we have are unconscious, so it can be challenging to drag them out into the light of day, thoroughly examine them and see them for what they are. But only then can we begin the hard work of mitigating any harm they are causing to the organization, division, team, individual employees, clients and our businesses.

When the future becomes unclear, the stress makes decision-making processes less logical and prone to flawed thought patterns. It’s not the optimal time to judge which direction to take when emotions are running high.

It’s easy to see that making important judgment calls in a time of economic crisis, worldwide pandemic, protests and political strife is not ideal.

Availability cascade, which is a conformity bias, is a self-reinforcing progression where a belief seems more plausible because of its increasing repetition. A current example would be the idea that the Chinese are responsible for the spread of Covid-19 because the virus is believed to have originated in China. This bias has resulted in acts of irrational violence against people of Asian descent. Another example would be health-care workers being abused because they are somehow believed to spread the virus.

This can also be explained by the bandwagon effect, another conformity bias. This occurs quickly, and the topic can be filled with inaccuracies until logic can prevail. It can be seen in a global situation or something as scaled-down as a team member jumping to a conclusion with questionable data and convincing the rest of the team to back them up.

In his book Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in Our Daily Lives, Howard J. Ross explains, “We are constantly making decisions that are influenced by unconscious biases. In fact, even when our biases seem conscious, they may be influenced by a pattern of unconscious assumptions that we have absorbed throughout our lives.”

There’s the hostile attribution bias, in which a manager might feel persecuted because their idea for a project didn’t go over well in the planning meeting. When other managers pointed out some obvious (to them) flaws in the proposed project, perhaps the manager perceives hostile intent from the other managers when that was not the case.

Another example is the normalcy bias, which makes us believe that events in the future will be similar to events in the past. This can create flawed thinking and lack of planning for unforeseen economic turndowns, which could leave an entire company vulnerable.

I once worked with a company that had a very well-thought-out disaster recovery plan that they actually met and planned for annually. Representatives from each department had their assigned duties, tasks and areas of responsibility. They kept the recovery plan up to date and continued to adjust it as the company grew. They did not intend to fall victim to the normalcy bias.

The framing effect can also be a potential pitfall. It happens when an either/or scenario is demanded. The framing effect can cause a company to keep moving forward or backward without ever considering alternatives like moving sideways if it is best for the business.

A colleague of mine once worked for a national business with several offices. Depending on what faction was “in power” at any given time, they were either in the process of centralizing or decentralizing. It was always either black or white, with no shades of gray. The warring back and forth took its toll on many highly qualified personnel. After years of internal struggle, many finally got demoralized and simply jumped ship. That once-large national business no longer exists.

Something to be concerned about presently is how many employees are working from home. They may be somewhat able to stay in their own little bubble without the normal day-to-day contact with company norms. Without the external influence of the organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts, and the pressure to conform to those standards, will some employees slip back into old patterns of thinking? Will some exhibit the bias of stereotyping others when they return to the office?

When we’re finally able to get back together, it may take some time to rebuild the social structure your company worked so hard to shape. Be on the lookout for microaggressions that employees may not even be aware they are exhibiting toward others they may perceive as being “other” after being cooped up with only like-minded individuals for so long.

Keep mindful of biases your employees fall into so you can coach them to discover more productive thinking methodologies. While you’re at it, be mindful of your own behaviors.

As Tiffany Jana and Matthew Freeman hopefully suggest in their book Overcoming Bias: Building Authentic Relationships Across Differences, “Now is the time when we open our eyes to all of the bias that exists and persists within the systems all around us. We have a moral imperative to understand the origins of institutional bias, how it has evolved or devolved, and how we can create stronger, better, less biased systems.”

This article has previously been featured on Forbes.