Several decades ago Henry Mintzberg wrote The Nature of Managerial Work, in which he noted that managerial activity was characterized by its variety, a series of relatively brief interactions that can be incredibly fragmented. He observed that phone calls averaged less than six minutes and typical one-on-one meetings averaged approximately 12 minutes. In the ensuing years learning and development professionals have observed that days have become even more frantic, and managers are keeping up this hectic pace during longer work days.
One thing that gets sacrificed in these work situations is the leader’s ability to provide inspiration and motivation to the work team. There is never enough time to provide adequate coaching and development to the immediate staff. When you ask today’s managers why they do not provide more development for their subordinates, invariably the answer has to do with time.
In a series of sessions Zenger Folkman has conducted with groups of managers, we asked: “Have you ever received coaching from a manager that had a marked impact on your personal development?” The majority of participants said yes. Then we asked: “How long did these coaching conversations take?” The majority of people indicated it took less than 15 minutes.
One of the key skills for leaders in today’s world is the ability to manage brief interactions. Every leader needs to make good use of short time bursts during the day to be successful in carving out time for more meaningful discussions having to do with longer-term career issues. The keys to managing brief interactions are identified in the following six rules:
1. Pick up the pace when you are in the driver’s seat. You can dive directly to the heart of the matter. If the leader is trying to determine the heartbeat of the organization, the question may be something like: “Tell me something you think I don’t know and probably don’t want to hear.” Note that it need not take long.
2. Gently guide others when they initiate the meeting. If someone drops into your office and obviously wants to have a leisurely chat, you can hasten the pace of that dialogue. Try standing up and having the conversation near the doorway or announcing that you’re under a tight time crunch and have only a couple of minutes available now, but that you could reschedule a later time.
3. Train colleagues what to expect from you. Subordinates and colleagues may drop by your office to discuss a topic of interest to them. If they become aware that your question will always be, “What have you been thinking about regarding this topic?” it won’t take many conversations for them to realize they should come with some proposal in mind if they raise an issue.
4. Schedule shorter meetings. I worked for a number of years in an organization in which one of the key executives was essentially a part-time employee. His assistant was sometimes instructed to schedule a three-minute meeting with one of his direct reports. While some were taken aback, it forced them to come with a clearly planned agenda to make use of the short time.
5. Make staff and work team meetings more efficient. Some of the most frequent complaints in corporate America are those swirling around the variety of meetings held. Enabling such meetings to be more efficient is one of the big opportunities for leaders to create more time for themselves.
6. Schedule periodic open times for free-wheeling discussion. This recommendation may seem contrary to the earlier ones. The point is, if your colleagues know there are times set aside for open-ended discussions, your practice to speedily push through operational items will be balanced.
If leaders manage their time with greater efficiency, leaving time for more significant matters, the bonds between them and their subordinates will be strengthened, the team will put forth extra effort, the best people will stay and the organization will prosper.
Jack Zenger is the co-founder and CEO of Zenger Folkman, a strengths-based leadership development firm. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.