Why You’re Too Busy to Lead

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Far too many leaders of organizations behave like a ship captain who insists on being involved in every task on the vessel–even the small duties like raising and lowering the sails, dropping the anchor, and coiling the ropes.

By busying himself with all of the operations necessary to sail the ship the captain puts the entire enterprise at risk for two reasons:

  1. He’s not keeping an eye on the horizon or his maps, and so he risks falling off course, missing out on opportunities, and failing to see danger.
  2. He’s not making sure that the crew is satisfied and engaged, risking desertion and mutiny.



In the business world, we’d say that this captain is busy with managing, not leading. This is a common problem, especially in small businesses. The solution would seem to be simple: train people and delegate responsibilities. And yet, it isn’t happening. Why?


The captain doesn’t have the crew

This is the most frequent response I hear from leaders. There’s no money to hire additional staff and the existing staff can’t handle any more work, so that’s why the leader is so busy with day-to-day operational work. If this is truly the case, then you can use it as an opportunity to improve your company.


  • Are all the tasks really necessary?
  • How can the team do the most time-consuming and resource-intensive tasks more efficiently?
  • Can the company become more selective about the type of work it will take on?
  • Are all of the employees really at full capacity?
  • Which employees can handle more responsibility?


The captain doesn’t trust the crew

This is a serious problem. It means that the leader has surrounded herself with people whom she believes are incapable or incompetent.

Ask yourself:

  • Have the employees in question actually been given enough opportunities to rise to the challenge?
  • If they are incompetent, can they be helped? Would a coach be able to assist them?
  • Is the leader a “control freak” or too much of a perfectionist?


The captain wants the crew to need him

The subconscious is powerful. Deep down, the leader may fear that if he ever built the “perfect” autonomous organization, it wouldn’t need him anymore. A leader with this mentality who also thrives in busy, chaotic situations might even subconsciously be sabotaging his own organization, creating crisis after crisis so that he can swoop in and save the day and prove his value to everyone–including himself.


So, how do you determine if you’re one of those leaders who is spending more time managing than leading?

Try this experiment:

Write down all of the tasks you do this week along with how much time is is required to complete each task. Give the list to your leadership coach and have him or her classify each of those activities as either managing or leading. Then compare the amount of time that you spent doing leadership type activities to the time you spent doing managing activities. If you spent more than 60% of your time doing management type work, then you’re spending too much time adjusting the sails and not enough time steering the ship.


“Businessman Sleep During Working” courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
“Ships Wheel” courtesy of Michal Marcol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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