Are you thoughtfully ruthless?
That sounds like an oxymoron but in fact it's just an unusual juxtaposition of two approaches to management. And Val Wright, a British-born consultant based in Los Angeles, feels from her observation of executives over the years that it's the key to success.
"Executives who stand out are thoughtfully ruthless about time, energy and resources. If they didn't manage all three they wouldn't be as successful," she says in an interview.
A starting point would be what she calls your "sensibly selfish charter" – the daily commitments you want to make to yourself, be it exercise, long walks with the dog or reading. She suggests your charter should outline what you plan to do every day, week, month and year.
Also list rituals in the following areas: self-maintenance, pampering, friendship, couple, fitness, "me" time, and development. Then consider who you need to tell and whether you need support from them to make it happen.
With respect to time, a key point she hammers home is that you are the barrier. Not somebody else. You are allowing your day to be filled with questionable meetings and trying to help everyone around you without proper consideration to available time. She routinely hears from the executives she counsels about how exhausted they are, taking red-eye flights back to the office for yet another round of back-to-back meetings. "It's within their power to say no," she insists.
She still recalls the occasion when, during the back-and-forth of a meeting she was leading, a colleague screaming out: "Shush!" It was a plaintive cry for silence, so the woman could think.
Ms. Wright feels you should add more silence to your life and makes the following recommendations:
- Book silence sessions into your calendar – during working hours, not just Sunday mornings – and protect them ruthlessly from cancellation.
- Schedule fake meetings occasionally so you have time to breathe and think. Occasionally cancel meetings with your team and grant them the gift of a few hours of sudden freedom.
- Create silence sessions in meetings: Don’t be the first to speak, as it may lead you to miss out on what others are thinking. Amazon has a period of silence at the start of each meeting during which people can read documents pertaining to the discussion ahead. The meeting only starts when everybody has finished, allowing those who get through the reading quicker some silent contemplative time.
- Try silence in the car: Instead of filling yourself with more information from radio or podcasts or initiating a flurry of phone calls, try some quiet time while in transit. Let your mind wander.
- Start and end every business trip alone: Don’t take the red-eye flight home. Stay over, allowing some time to reflect on your business or immerse yourself in a culture different from your own. Similarly, when leaving allow some quiet time rather than timing it so you arrive at the airport just before takeoff.
- Ask permission to think for a moment: Like that individual in Ms. Wright’s meeting, ask permission to think. Or grant it. She recalls a leader who would regularly say, “Let’s take a 10-minute break.”
- Listen to the silence: If you’re not a regular practitioner of meditation or yoga, the silence may seem uncomfortable. Allow yourself to be still and embrace it. Write down the thoughts that come to you.
Control your calendar. She says schedules increasingly resemble a game of Tetris, with everyone double or triple-booked. She believes most organizations can cut 50 per cent of their meetings. And for the remaining meetings, half the people attending can be sliced. So by being thoughtfully ruthless on meetings, you can reduce the number people attending by 75 per cent.
To protect your energy, she recommends divorcing your friends and network if they aren't inspiring or energizing you. Teenagers cut off friends they tire of and replace them. But as we age, we retain and add, and that just drains energy. "If you don't want to spend time with people, don't," she advises.
The biggest challenge with resources is to build for the future. Imagine what your organization will need from your team two to five years from now. Do the people on hand have those skills? If not, you must be thoughtfully ruthless with them and in choosing newcomers. It's never good to have a team where everyone is handling the biggest job of their lives. You want some who have done this before.
Be thoughtfully ruthless with your time, energy and resources. It will pay off.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter