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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

From distraction to traction: Finding true return on leadership 

Excellence should never come at the expense of our wellness.

From distraction to traction: Finding true return on leadership 
[soloveyigor/Adobe Stock]

Nearly all of today’s leaders and managers are experiencing the most chronically exhausting work environment in history. And the trend is not looking good as pressure continues to mount. The typical manager has so many kettles on the fire at any one time that sustaining this pace while delivering value has become especially challenging.

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Our obsession with getting more and more done by further squeezing the proverbial lemon seems to have become an unquestioned way of functioning. For many, the speeding hamster wheel is a key factor driving the biggest wave of burnout and resignation we’ve seen in our lifetimes.

While organizations have a critical role to play in changing the way work is done, leaders and managers must be proactive in taking personal responsibility for their own well-being and effectiveness.

It is now urgent to reclaim work, life, and well-being from a worn-out paradigm that is still implicitly accepted as “the way we do things,” but which is entirely unsustainable. Excellence should never come at the expense of our wellness. Sustainable performance in today’s new world demands that we rethink how we lead ourselves and others, making a vital shift from overwhelm and distraction to traction and true return on leadership.

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CONTEXT ON OVERWHELM AND DISTRACTION

Even before the pandemic, more than 70% of managers considered meetings to be a waste of time. Still, most knowledge workers spent more than 85% of their time in meetings, often negatively impacting people’s well-being. Gallup research showed that burnout among managers increased significantly in 2021.

Teams are spending up to 80% of their time on non-value-add activities, and getting the job done has become harder than ever.

It is not surprising that, according to BCG, 10% or fewer non-managers in the West aspire to become managers. A recent study by Humu proved the point in showing that managers are twice as likely to quit their jobs as individual contributors.

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Add to this picture the reality of constant distraction, where employees are interrupted 50 to 60 times per day. In fact, the average office worker spends a sparse three minutes before switching tasks while the typical Fortune 500 CEO has just 28 minutes of uninterrupted focus a day.

In addition to corporate initiatives to reexamine the way we work, it has become critical for individual leaders to take a proactive approach to their personal sustainability and capacity to create value.

FROM OVERWHELM AND DISTRACTION TO RETURN ON LEADERSHIP

Moving from noise to signal involves a balanced combination of mindset and process. Here are five indispensable lenses to help you generate sustainable return on leadership.

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• Ensure your “why” is aligned to your company’s purpose: 70% of people define their personal purpose through their work. So, for most of us, it’s essential that we feel a strong alignment between our work and the core purpose of our organization. In some cases, this simply requires putting some thought into how what we do contributes to our organization’s “why” and articulating that for ourselves so that we operate in conscious alignment between our own and our organization’s purpose. In other cases, we may feel a disconnect between what matters to us and our corporation’s purpose. This is a clear signal to look for a new opportunity within which to focus our creative energies.

• Be true to your core values: While most of us recognize that being out of alignment with ourselves is demotivating and exhausting, we are often moving too fast to think about how our values play out in each of our daily scenarios. To manage this risk, take some time to work through the core set of principles that are most essential to you as a human being, those that you would never choose to consciously compromise—and keep them front and center as you make key decisions.

• Cultivate a quiet mind: There is no more important time than when we are feeling overwhelmed to cultivate a quiet mind. Inner stillness is the source of true resilience and creativity. Find your own unique path to inner peace, whether it’s through music, yoga, meditation, or sports, and prioritize time to make it a key aspect of your life.

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• Ensure you’re focused on the right things: Most of us are working at a furious pace. But are we clear enough on what our work is contributing to and why? In a 2019 study of corporate leaders by Indiggo, nearly half the respondents (48%) said that managers and leaders in their organization couldn’t list their priorities and only 36% of the respondents said that managers and leaders consistently felt a connection between their daily work and the priorities of their departments or organizations. This is a massive issue, not just in terms of the tremendous cost of waste, but also the confusion and fatigue at the personal level from flying blind. Make time to ensure you and your team are aligning your efforts to formal priorities.

• Take back vital time and energy wasted on low-value work: We may be getting a lot done every day, but if much of what we accomplish is on things that don’t matter, we are squandering our most precious resource: our finite time and energy. Between 25% and 40% of a manager’s time can be recovered from three low-value activities and redeployed where it will create value and satisfaction,

Ultimately, it’s important to be very intentional about what you say yes to. Saying no to what doesn’t matter allows you to create traction on the things that really count.

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Marc is Co-founder and Chief Leadership officer of Indiggo

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