Time To Lead

As we enter a period of unprecedented economic uncertainty, Des Gould considers whether now is the time for a new approach to leadership?

In describing the current economic crisis, many economists are drawing parallels with the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  But while there may be similarities, the circumstances of today’s crisis are radically different.  Possibly the most significant difference is that whereas in the 1930's our domestic economies were relatively autonomous, today they are inextricably linked – that is why the excessive sub-prime lending in the US was capable of  precipitating a global crisis.
It is therefore likely that the solutions, whatever they may prove to be, will require innovative thinking and new approaches.
Some would argue that during the last few decades our business leaders have become more sophisticated as a result of better information systems, better forecasting and innovative financial vehicles.  But the question I would ask is whether the nature of leadership itself has changed all that much?

I would argue that our leaders and managers are so addicted to the “just-do-it” (JDI) culture that they often leave too little time to think things through.

Our predominant way of thinking is ‘dualistic’ - right and wrong, black and white, good and bad - you may recall President George Bush saying with reference to the war in Iraq; “You are either with us or against us”.

While dualistic clarity can be helpful and should be applauded in some situations, it should not be the only way in which we think.

All too often answers are not black or white but shades of grey.

We can and do think beyond dualism in other areas of our lives, but it seems that the practice is rare amongst the senior business leaders.

Possibly the reason for this is the pressure of time.  We feel that we must make quick decisions because the clock is ticking.

Here is a story told to me by a very bright consultant I will refer to as “JD”.

JD was hired to observe a client company in action. There was a crucial issue that the top team had to crack. The CEO got them all together, and they were ensconced in a room for 11 hours. There were 18 of them. So that’s a lot of key executive hours. If their time is worth $2000 per hour, times 11, times 18, I make that close on half a million dollars.

Once posturing, politics, power games and the like were deducted, along with natural breaks, his conclusion was that there was just 1 hour of really productive time.  Arguably the posturing and politics are necessary, but not 10 hours worth, surely? 
He presented his findings to the boss, who agreed that the group had used their time ineffectively. JD suggested a workshop where the top team would learn key skills and awareness, so the waste may never happen again and the overall productivity of the business would increase. He was turned down by the CEO on the basis that they didn’t have time!

A couple of issues jump out at me as a result of this story.

First, is JD being naive in thinking that corporations are about profit? Are they not really about power? Aren’t the posturing and the politics part of the game?

Second, and I am indebted to JD for this, is the insight that there may well be four types of time, and that we are addicted to just one of them.

The Four types of time.

1)  Measured time.  The kind we most often experience.  Divided artificially, rationed out, allocated for efficiency. Clock time.
2)  Reflective time.  Concentrated, working time: you are writing, planning, thinking, solving problems.
3)  Contemplative time.  Slow, quiet, meditative.  Different from reflective time because it is primarily receptive. 
4)  Present time.  Ecstatic, often high energy.  Time that is spent experientially and in the moment. 

I find it interesting that measured time is referred to as ‘artificial’, and ‘rationed out’, implying that there is a shortage, which is not apparent when we work in the other types of time.

It can be shown as follows:

Measured time dominates our lives.  We regard it as logical, rational, scientific, pragmatic and the only approach that works. But does it? Is it sufficient in the face of real complexity?

In my opinion the answer is ‘no’.  To solve the challenges of today, leaders need to reject the habit of imposing artificial time constraints on decision making.  They need to create more time for reflective and contemplative thinking.

As Albert Einstein said:
“The problems of today cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”


About the author
Des Gould is a professional Coach and can be contacted at .