Five Questions for Leaders Who Are at Their Limits

Posted 09.16.2009

Timeisshort Earlier this week, I was talking with an executive who’s recently been promoted to run a business unit that earlier this decade was generating a few million dollars a year in revenue and this year will gross a few hundred million dollars. Through acquisitions and organic growth, the business could be twice its current size in a few more years. As we were talking about the changes she might have to make in her leadership style as the business grows, I remembered a conversation I had last year with another executive who was facing the same sort of situation.

In this earlier case, a senior executive of a real estate company explained to me that he was responsible for properties that generated $500 million in revenue and that because of reorganizations in the company he was going to now be responsible for $1 billion worth of properties. He told me that in the previous year he had travelled 225 days to appear at one property after another and he didn’t know how he was going to pull off overseeing twice as many properties. My response was that one thing we knew for sure was that he wasn’t going to travel 450 days in the upcoming year.

That was the ah-ha moment for him. He recognized that the natural limits of time were going to force him to change his approach. Oftentimes leaders get so caught up in the doing that they don’t stop to assess whether or not what they’re trying to do is actually physically possible. In his case, being personally present at every property in his business unit over the course of a year just wasn’t possible. My observation that you can’t travel 450 days in one year was the trigger for him to step back and reassess.

Maybe you’re in a similar situation. Here are five questions you can ask yourself to assess your leadership situation and determine what your options are around the highest and best use of your time as a leader.
Question 1: 
What am I trying to do that extends beyond the actual time available to me to personally do it?

Question 2: 
What am I trying to accomplish by doing that?

Question 3
Given the role that I’m in, what should I be trying to accomplish instead?

Question 4: 
What resources (people, systems, processes) do I need to acquire or develop to cover whatever still seems worthwhile in my answer to Question 2?

Question 5: 
What opportunities do I have to shift from retail leadership (being personally present or involved in everything) to wholesale leadership (leveraging and involving others to act on the overall plan)?

What are you noticing about limits lately? What are you doing to adjust?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories about changes you’re making to deal with the limits leaders face.