Not all work is the same and as a leader, allocating time to the right kind of work is essential. Time and again I’ve used the war-peace-prosperity model while thinking through this in the context of organization design. Please note that I’m using the term leader in the sense of a person that holds authority and accountability of some part of the business (rather than the more widely applicable idea of “leadership”).
War-like circumstances are chaotic. They need urgent and decisive action. You can think of war in both the active sense and the passive sense. In the passive sense, you are a victim of a war happening elsewhere. The chaos was caused by circumstances outside your control but nonetheless you have to deal with them. In the active sense, your are choosing to go to war. The chaos is created by you. Even if you win, you have to deal with the collateral damage and the unintended consequences of your actions.
In either case, you need to provide direction and take urgent & decisive action to help your organization get through the situation. The silver lining is that these are rare occurrences and hopefully you spend less than 10% of your time on this.
Peace time is uneventful. The work is Business As Usual, the organization slides into a routine and things happen on auto-pilot. As a leader, BEWARE! It is very easy to get comfortable with the routine and certainty and slip from being a leader to being a manager. The clear, tangible outcomes of this work are also very enticing. But peace time work has to either be automated or delegated.
If you spend most of your time here, you’re going to slow down the organization and stifle the growth of your people. Having said that, an important part that you have to play here is holding the standards. A good rule of thumb is to not spend more than 30% of your time here.
This is the growth zone. This is where boundaries are pushed, new value is created and new business models emerge. Ideally, this is where you should be spending most of your time as a leader. However, this is the most difficult zone to be in. It is full of ambiguity and no one knows what the right answer is. Naturally, it is next to impossible to show success in this zone. It is only possible in an environment where failure is acceptable and only when you have a high-performing, self organised team taking care of the “peace-time” work.
The rate at which technology is moving places us in an unknown-unknown space. The only way out is through responsible probing, sensing and responding 🙂