This guest blog post was written by TEAMES & CO, which exists to end the practice of “team building,” and instead is committed to a future where all organizations invest in building truly effective teams. Our mission is to develop, equip, and empower exceptional teams that drive revenue and organizational growth by delivering extraordinary customer experiences.
The biggest mistake leaders can make is to sit in their proverbial “ivory towers,” failing to engage with their customers or even with their own teams.
Does your center have a leader who fails to engage well and is constantly isolated within his or her own office? That’s bad. Are you a leader who fails to engage well and is constantly isolated in your office? That’s worse.
We all know that we should be engaging with our teams as well as our customers. Management literature is replete with reasons why it’s important to connect in these ways. There are case studies, books, and classes that teach the importance of leaders really engaging with their teams and especially with their customers.
And yet engaging can be so hard to do. The siren song of isolated leadership is seductive, it beckons us back to our offices, urging us to complete those tasks that don’t require us to interact with others. Isolated leadership feels productive. It allows us to complete those tasks that litter our To Do lists without requiring the pesky input from others. Gathering input always tends to slow things down and therefore feels unproductive.
The purpose of this short blog post is to encourage readers to develop time management processes to enable an efficient and steady stream of feedback which allows leaders to engage meaningfully with their teams and customers without slowing down work. Sound attractive? We think so.
The Siren Song of Isolated Leadership and Quadrant III Problems
In his groundbreaking book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey introduces a topic that’s highly related to our current discussion – time management. In particular, Covey introduces what he calls the Time Management Matrix, shown below.
In general, Covey argues that there are four quadrants where people can spend their time.
- Quadrant I is also known as Important/Urgent. Quadrant I problems are crisis situations that need to be handled immediately and are highly consequential. Covey calls people who are constantly working on Quadrant I problems as “crisis-managers,” “problem-minded people,” and “deadline driven producers.”
- Quadrant II is also known as Important/Not Urgent. We will spend more time on this segment in our “Solution” column. At its core though, it’s important to recognize that creating time for Quadrant II activities is one of the most critical skills we can develop. Like any skill, manufacturing time to spend on these activities requires practice and intentionality. More on this soon.
- Quadrant III is also known as Not Important/Urgent. Activities in Quadrant III are seductive. The Siren Song of Isolated Leadership stems from Quadrant III activities.
- Quadrant IV is also known as Not Important/Not Urgent: These can also be described as time wasters. Think of those times that you pop over to Facebook in the middle of a workday – that’s a perfect example of Quadrant IV activities.
Let’s take a moment to consider Quadrants I, IV, and III for a moment.
Quadrant I problems will always (and should always) demand our immediate and concentrated attention. When the stakes are high, and time is short, most people will find a way to buckle down and get the job done. However, many people find themselves so totally consumed reacting to urgent problems that they have little energy remaining for anything else after they’ve “put out the fires” of that given day. At TEAMES & CO we contend that people spending too much time in Quadrant I have likely not invested enough energy in proactive (Quadrant II) activities and as a result are forced to constantly react to draining fire drills. People who hang out in Quadrant I for disproportionate amounts of time almost never have the time to develop relationships or establish healthy feedback loops in their own organizations.
Quadrant IV problems are the opposite of Quadrant I. These are generally fun activities that you derive pleasure from doing. While there is certainly a place for these activities, if you find yourself spending unhealthy amounts of time in Quadrant IV, you’re likely ineffective (or at least inconsistent) in managing your responsibilities.
Quadrant III problems have what we like to call a Siren Song. Problems that are urgent are always going to be top of mind, they’re right in front of us. These problems beckon to us, they demand to be taken care of right here and now… regardless of whether they really matter.
Take a moment right now. Do you have a To Do list? If so, please take it out right now and look at it. We’ll wait.
Have your To Do list? Awesome.
Go through your list and really consider. How much does each line-item matter? What’s the consequence if something doesn’t get done?
After taking a moment to consider these questions, what percentage of your To Do list would you categorize as Quadrant III type problems? My guess is that it’s a fairly high percent. Many of us load our To Do lists with Quadrant III problems, leaving little room for anything else.
Because these problems demand to be taken care of immediately. Because it just feels good to cross something off of our To Do list. Because Quadrant III problems have a taste of real productivity, even if they lack the substance of true productivity.
Now consider. How many of these Quadrant III problems is it easier for you to accomplish on your own, behind your closed door, in isolation, than to engage with others? Inviting others to opine on Quadrant III activities can be highly frustrating. Doing so will always slow us down, causing us to spend more time on these problems before we can feel the satisfaction of crossing them off the list.
Our contention is not that there’s not a place for Quadrant III activities. Of course you’ll always need to get the little things done. Our contention is that making a habit of spending time on these little things whenever they pop up can be incredibly destructive and lead you to a style of isolated leadership where you are not actively engaging with your team.
Quadrant II Activities – e.g., Creating A Culture of Feedback
So, what’s the solution? We agree with the solution prescribed by Stephen Covey, creating time to invest in activities which are not urgent but which are important.
It’s difficult to put this into practice. When you have Quadrant I activities banging down your door, it’s impossible to spend time on less urgent activities. When you have Quadrant III activities knocking at your door, it’s so easy to simply spend time to get them done. After all, we’ve established that doing so feels good.
Yet by manufacturing time to invest in important activities that are not urgent, a leader has the opportunity to get ahead of problems, thereby reducing the amount future time that will be required for them to spend on highly urgent problems.
We contend that developing feedback loops is a critical, must do, Quadrant II activity.
In most organizations, our employees and our customers aren’t clamoring to give us feedback. The impetus is on us, as leaders, to proactively ask for feedback. We need to create time to reach out and engage with our teams, and with our customers to simply speak with them. Yet, this is an activity that is easy to push off for later. It’s easy to reschedule “feedback meetings” when something more urgent comes up.
Doing so is almost always inefficient at first. If you don’t have an established culture of strong feedback in your organization, soliciting feedback always takes more time than you would prefer. It requires active listening and humility. It forces you to consider perspectives different from your own. Harder still, seeking feedback will almost always force you to confront your own deficiencies.
Yet seeking feedback will allow you to pinpoint areas where your time could be better spent. It allows you to better understand your customers and build relationships with your team, fostering trust in both groups. Carving out space in your calendar every week for simple conversations is a habit that will, in the long run, yield powerful benefits.
Every organization, and every leader, is different. However, we recommend establishing several best practices to ensure you are being proactive in soliciting feedback from your customers and from your team.
- We like to recommend a minimum of two hours per week that are solely dedicated to relationship building with members of your team. Grab a coffee, catch up, really seek to understand what’s going on in their lives. In the course of doing this, work conversation will naturally come up. Feel free to ask for the candid and honest perspective of your team. Two hours can seem like a lot, but find ways to make it happen.
- Create the infrastructure to listen to your customers. This looks different in different organizations. For some, it’s as simple as picking up the phone and calling a customer. For others, you’ll likely rely on surveys, and focus groups to really understand your customers. Try to learn more about their lives. What do they care about? What don’t they care about? What do they love about your product? What do they hate about your product?
- Encourage your team to do the same. Everybody in your organization should have a customer focus and should be taking active steps to keep the customer front and center in their own minds. Similarly, the more time people on your team can spend developing relationships with each other, the healthier and more well-rounded your organization will be.
How TEAMES & CO Can Help
You don’t need to consider implementing true culture change activities on your own. Creating cultures of feedback, of intentionality in developing Quadrant II habits is extremely difficult. Developing the mechanisms to efficiently solicit feedback from your teams and from your customers can be tricky.
TEAMES & CO is here to help. Reach out today to learn more about how we help organizations develop customer-centric strategies, and the internal processes to deliver against those strategies. Core to our work is the creation of strong cultures of feedback.
Drop us a note today to learn more about how we can help your organization.