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High-performance CEOs are role models for productivity, not looking busy

Most CEOs recognise that while being busy feels important, it’s actually a lazy way of leading a company, argues workplace culture expert Colin D Ellis.

High Performance CEOs

One constant throughout the last 18 months in the world of work is that most people have been busy. Busy with back-to-back Teams or Zoom calls, busy with emails, busy juggling family commitments while in lockdown and, of course, busy with endless amounts of work, much of which is considered a priority.

The whole world is busy and the consequences of that are plain for CEOs to see. According to the OC Tanner ‘Global Culture Report’, almost 80 per cent of employees are experiencing some form of burnout at work. While for senior leaders, nearly 60 per cent felt completely used up by the end of their working days according to DDI’s ‘Global Leadership Forecast’ 2021.

This behaviour and approach to work is not sustainable. The physical effects of burnout can lead to serious illness and CEOs need to act now to set the tone for managers and employees to follow.

The right breed of leader

If you’re looking for a role model to follow, then look no further than Tobias Lütke, the CEO of US retail giant Shopify.

Back in December 2019, he admitted on Twitter that he doesn’t overwork and ensures that he’s present with his family at 5.30pm every evening. He said, “My belief is that there are five creative hours in everyone’s day. All I ask of people at Shopify is that four of those are channelled into the company.”

He went on to say, “We don’t burn out people. We give people space. We love real teams with real friendships forming.” If the CEO of a US$50 billion global company can do this, then it’s possible for others too.

Benefits of productivity vs looking busy

If you’re not persuaded by the burnout argument (and you should be), then here are three other reasons why CEOs should focus on productivity, rather than busy-ness:

Priorities are understood by all

Jim Collins famously said in his book From Good to Great, ‘If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.’ The point that he was making is that your focus, on a day-to-day basis, should be on the things that are important at that time. For many organisations, priorities aren’t understood, which means that project deadlines are missed, service levels are poor and managers take to using the CEOs name as a priority weapon. By being crystal clear on what’s important, CEOs can not only prioritise their own time and effort but help others to do so too.

Time is made to get work done

And knowing what’s important, means that people – including CEOs – can plan. They can actively set time aside to check in with employees, read documents, strategise, receive information and build relationships with internal and external partners, who are critical to strategy delivery. They can also plan in time for lunch, exercise and their own continual development. I’m coaching a CEO currently and the biggest change that he’s made is to take a regular break for food and follow a daily cycle of exercise, which has led to greater productivity due to the extra energy he has. He’s now in a position to recommend (insist even!) that his managers do it too.

Health, wellbeing and a vibrant culture is maintained

And diet, exercise and rest are key cornerstones of the health and wellbeing of all employees, CEOs included. As is ensuring that they feel able to bring their best selves to work everyday in a culture that is empathetic and supportive. Not one that devalues their productive time by swamping them with emails or 30/60-minute meetings, often with no context, structure or clear action. A psychologically safe culture doesn’t build itself.

Making time to reset and reconnect

Dedicated time needs to be set aside for staff to reset their expectations of each and to lay the foundations for successful delivery of the strategy. This is the opportunity to identify those cultural norms that get in the way of productivity and to agree how they’ll be addressed in the year ahead.

Most CEOs recognise that while being busy feels important, it’s actually a lazy way of being. By making time to plan, build relationships, rest, recuperate and take action on priorities CEOs can get the most from their days. At that point, they can then insist that their managers do the same and become role models for productivity, not busyness.

Colin D Ellis is the author of The Hybrid Handbook: How to Set Yourself Up for the Future of Work and helps organisations around the world to transform their working cultures. Get in touch with him via his website to take your business to the next level.

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