Too busy to lead effectively - overworked businessman

Many managers and leaders work in demanding, high-paced environments.

Leaders are being asked to do more, with less, which puts them in a position where they are often too busy to lead effectively.

Personally, I’ve had a few leadership roles where I have been “spinning plates” constantly. Running from one thing to the next, too busy to take the time and care to do things the way I’d have liked.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this. So let’s ask the question…


If You’re Too Busy, What Are You Not Doing?

The problem with being too busy is that you can’t get all your work done. This is fairly normal, and I have found it rare that I can do absolutely everything on my to-do list.

Too busy - what are you missing?

This is fine if the tasks that are falling off your list are unimportant. But often, the busy leader stops doing work that is important for leaders to do.

The Work That Stops When Leaders Are Too Busy

1. Quality Control

One important aspect of leading a team is the quality of the work your team produces. When managers are too busy, they don’t have time to review documentation or oversee processes the way they should be.

This happens because the benefits of quality control can sometimes be seen as an intangible. After all, if you don’t review something, there is still a chance it might be OK without your feedback!

Unfortunately, this means you’ll be taking a risk. Maybe it will work out fine this time. But eventually, you might have a problem.

2. Mentoring and Coaching Conversations

Too busy - mentoring and coachingAn important aspect of leadership that helps team members improve is mentoring and coaching. Often, this occurs as part of regular one-to-one meetings with each team member.

These conversations are important, because they help you understand individuals in an environment where they can be more open and honest, without everybody else listening in. This is where you’re more likely to hear frank insights on what team members are struggling with.

However, these are often some of the tasks that fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Earlier in my career, I had many busy leaders cancel one-to-one meetings and never reschedule them.

Why? Again, it’s because often the results gained from these conversations are somewhat intangible. If you miss one coaching conversation, it’s not the end of the world.

However, repeatedly failing to meet these commitments can see team members struggle, lose motivation and eventually head for the door.

3. Supporting the Team

When managers are too busy, they tend to be less available. Many leaders will tell us that they have an open door policy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if your door is open if you’re never in the room!

Busy leaders are swamped with emails, meetings and other demands. As each of these take up time, the available time for supporting the team decreases.

This may result in team members feeling vulnerable because they feel like they are going it alone.

For more on how to better support your team, read this post: 6 Great Ways to Support Your Team.

4. Team Improvement

When leaders are too busy at work, improving their team falls to the bottom of the list. Instead, leaders become satisfied to simply keep running as they are, and the goal becomes surviving until the weekend.

Unfortunately, this is not sustainable as the team will continue to experience the same problems. Leaders and teams are then running on the “hamster wheel” of work, never getting ahead.

Too busy - hamster wheel 2

For more on team improvement, read this post: 5 reasons smart leaders keep chasing team improvement.

When “Too Busy” Becomes Normal, You Have a Problem

We all have days and weeks that are busier than normal. There are times when you won’t be able to fulfil some of your obligations as work piles up.

However, the real problems occur when this situation becomes normal. If you constantly find yourself unable to undertake general leadership tasks such as reviewing your team’s work, improving the team or having your one to one meetings, then you’re falling into patterns of poor leadership.

Eventually,  you will reach a point where you are leading in a way that you’re not proud of.

So…how are you going to get out of this situation?

How to Stop Being Too Busy

1. Change the Busyness Mindset

Leaders are often stifled by the “busyness mindset” in the workplace. The busyness mindset occurs when people generally believe that the more meetings you attend, or the less available you are, the more valuable you must be.

Too busy - calm role modelWhen someone tells you “I’m so busy” or “I’ve been in back to back meetings all day”, they are signalling that they are valuable, because they are in demand.

Don’t be fooled. Many people waste a lot of time in unproductive or unnecessary meetings and on other low value tasks.

The aim is not to be busy. It’s to be effective.

If you can be a role model for the type of behaviour you want to see, then you’ll start to change the culture of your team.

2. Hold Fast To Your Commitments

If you have committed to your team that you will be available at a certain time of day, or that you’ll review something for them, do your best to stick to it.

You *can* drop commitments with your team because you’re “the boss”. But this doesn’t look good and sooner or later your team will feel vulnerable and unsupported, and you’ll start to lose credibility.

One way to stick to your commitments is to block out time in your own calendar to work on specific items. When other people try to book your time over the top, politely declining or asking for a reschedule is often the best strategy.

3. Prioritise and Build Your Time Management Skills

Understanding the tasks that matter most will help you manage your time better.

If you don’t have a stance on what your most important priorities are, you will likely end up working on everyone else’s priorities!

Tip: If you feel overwhelmed and can never get to the end of your to-do list, Thoughtful Leader can help. Check out the Time Management Toolkit, with tools and techniques to help you free your time and be a more effective leader. You and your team deserve better, so try the toolkit today.

Do you struggle to lead your team because you’re too busy? What are some of your strategies to help with this? Leave a comment below to help the Thoughtful Leader community! 

Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help, you can send me a private message through my contact page.