I first wrote a blog post called “Make Time to Lead,” more than 5 years ago; and I’ve written several variations on that theme since then. It’s a lesson I learned first-hand, as I managed HUD’s web program and co-chaired the Federal Web Managers Council. It’s easy to get so inundated in process that you lose your direction – and so do those who are following you.
As I look at all that’s on your plate today, web colleagues – website consolidation, plain language re-writes, social media, mobile apps, customer service initiatives – it seems to be a good time to trot this chestnut out again.
Whatever else you do, you have to make time to lead.
A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with a very good web friend. At one point, I looked at her and said, “We’ve been together for 45 minutes, and all you’ve talked about is process. What new ideas are you thinking about? What’s next on your agenda?” She looked at me and froze. I could tell that nothing came to mind. She laughed and said, “Candi, you always make me think.”
See, that’s the thing, web leaders. You have to make time to think. You never know when your boss may call you in or you might run into your agency head in the elevator or you see a prominent colleague at a meeting and they ask, “what’s next?” You need to be ready with an answer because you may not get that opening again. When your team is drowning in process, they need you to inspire them with what’s on the horizon. Put it all into perspective and keep those juices flowing. You’ve got to find some time to think.
Equally important, you’ve got to make time to listen. We’ve all heard people say, “my (boss, team leader, project leader, community leader) is so busy I can’t even get 5 minutes with him.” I understand how busy leaders can be. You go crazy running from one meeting to another, one phone call to another, one demand to another.
But you cannot succeed if the people who look to you for leadership lose their way, don’t know what to do next, can’t solve a problem, don’t know what the priorities are, or just need some good ol’ encouragement. You’ve got to make time to listen to them and help them.
So here are a few questions you should ask yourself each week, web leaders:
1. What’s next? What problems do we need to solve? What are others doing that we should try? What’s the next big thing, and how can we get ready for it? What is it that nobody is doing that we could pioneer? What priorities do I need to shift? Who might help me? Who do I need to involve?
2. What do my followers need from me? What do I need to do this week to keep my (team, group, colleagues) on track? What do my key lieutenants need from me? Who needs some individual time? When was the last time I asked them to tell me what they need? When was the last time I sat down with them and asked how things are going and took the time to really listen?
Don’t look at your calendar and sigh and say you don’t have time. Don’t decide that it’s OK to just feel guilty because you aren’t doing these things. This is important stuff. You can’t put it off. Leading is charting the course…and guiding the troops.
Make time to think. Make time to listen. Make time to lead.