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CEOs: Is Your ‘Busyness’ displaying mediocrity? by Phil Jesson

Phil Jesson

Phil Jesson

When you think of your favourite leaders and imagine them at work, what is it that you see? Do you see them under a mountain of paperwork, rushing around looking concerned and anxious or do you see them looking calm and collected, with a clear desk and a clear mind?

Why is it that some leaders get it right in this area of personal organisation, time management and delegation and others get it so horribly wrong? Think of your own environment for a moment – where do you spend your time?

  1. Proactively working on things that will develop the business, your people and yourself
  2. Reactively working on important requests from your customer, staff or your boss
  3. Proactively working on routine tasks that simply keep things ticking over
  4. Reactively working on numerous fire-fighting tasks that get in the way of you spending more time on the things that matter

The interesting thing about items 1 and 2 is that they are legitimate business activities whereas 3 and 4 are nothing more than busyness. Although being “busy” may look good, and fuel your ego, it is a sign of mediocrity. The busier you are the more average you are likely to become. Another danger of “busyness” is that it is motion, but not necessarily progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but makes no progress!

So what is it that good leaders do in this important area?

  • They know their priorities – they stay focused on a small number of high-impact objectives. They understand that having 25 objectives for the future is as hopeless as having none! These leaders often have just 3-5 objectives that would change the fortunes of their business
  • They ask the right question. When a piece of “reactive routine” work hits the desk it is easy to ask the wrong question i.e. “Could I do this task quicker or better than anyone else?” In many instances the answer will be “yes” so what do we do………we do it!
    Things that matter most are held hostage by the things that matter least. What we should do is ask ourselves the right question i.e. “Is this task the best use of my time bearing in mind my objectives?” This time the answer will be “no” so we will be more inclined to delegate the task
  • They don’t feel guilty about delegating work to others. Good leaders don’t see delegation as “dumping” – they can see that they are actually changing the nature of work in many cases. A boring “routine” task for one person can become an important “creative” task to another
  • They create space. Good leaders never tell their people how to do things – they explain the “what” and the “why” then sit back and wait to be surprised by their peoples’ ingenuity and creativity.
  • They see effective delegation as a process:-
  1. Define the task and its objective
  2. Decide who (ability, workload, attitude etc)
  3. Explain what needs to be done
  4. Explain why it needs to be done
  5. Explain when it needs to be done by
  6. Offer help, support and resources as necessary
  7. Ask the other person to recap on their understanding of the task they are about to tackle
  8. Agree how progress will be monitored (to ensure that you don’t meddle!)
  9. Appraise the result
  10. Discuss the learning and look to the future

Phil Jesson is Marketing Director of The Academy for Chief Executives ( and is also a speaker, consultant and coach in key account management and the 80-20 Pareto Principle ( He has worked with Pirelli, Tarmac, Grant Thornton, EDF Energy, Bass and Fedex but is equally at home in the SME market. He has recently published his first business book “Piranhas In The Bidet” which has received many five-star reviews on

The above article is just a sample of the type of practical, no nonsense session that speakers such as Phil deliver to the members of The Academy for Chief Executives. The whole community is dedicated to inspiring the leaders of businesses to change their thinking, challenge their views and help them with their decision making abilities. Leaders no longer need to feel isolated at the top. Find out more

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