I had an experience at work the other day that forced me to stop and think. As a result of this experience, I came to an unexpected realization that I felt like I needed to share, as I am convinced that there is a valuable lesson to be learned by all of us, myself included.
I have been practicing “time blocking” in an attempt to improve my productivity. The technique uses a relatively simple concept, where you take items from your to-do list that are important and create dedicated timeslots in your calendar to actually perform the task. You essentially create an appointment with yourself to commit to that particular task, at a specific time and location. I had found that the technique was relatively helpful, especially in helping me to reduce my tendency to be overly optimistic about how many things I think I can get done in a day.
Anyway, I had two full hours booked off to complete a work task that required some focus, and that task was coming due shortly. This was one of those pesky tasks that I had been procrastinating on doing. It was an important task and one that certainly needed to be completed. It was a task that really needed to be completed soon, but I was not worried about it, as I knew that I had two full hours dedicated to it coming up. As it turns out, life had other plans.
As I was putting my things away to get ready to go grab a quick bite to eat for lunch, one of my team members came to me in a bit of a panic. There was an issue between him and another colleague that worked for another team, and my employee was quite worried about what it would mean for his ability to deliver his work on time.
For just a moment, I felt torn. I was unsure of how to respond. I knew that I needed to help this employee deal with the situation he was facing, but I also knew that it was a Friday afternoon and that it would take a significant chunk of my afternoon to pull the right people together to try to resolve the problem. I knew that if I focused on solving this problem for my employee, I would be cutting into the time that I had blocked to accomplish some of my tasks.
As I quickly thought about the issue, I realized that the fundamental question was whether I made my employee my priority or kept my appointment with myself, making myself the priority. Once I had framed the challenge in that manner, I knew exactly what to had to be done.
We often think of a leader as the person at the front, the person who puts themselves ahead of the team. But it is actually the reverse. A true leader is someone who puts their team first, ahead of their own needs and interests. And I always endeavour to make decisions based on the leadership principles that I want to see in the people above me. In this type of example, I would want to see them putting me ahead of themselves. So there was only one way forward in the situation.
Sighing to myself, I pulled the proper people together in a meeting room, and we talked about the issue. I had to play the part of a referee, making efforts to calm both sides down as they were letting their emotions get the better of them. I guess that is something to be expected and maybe even celebrated. After all, they all are passionate about their work. It would be a lot worse if they were apathetic.
We worked through the issue, talking it over. And then having some heated debate, followed by more discussion. After some pointed questions, I began to realize that the disagreement was actually over nothing at all; everyone was essentially saying the same thing, just in a different manner. I pointed this fact out, several times, and we kept the dialogue going. Eventually, people calmed down, reflected on the situation, and realized that we were all reasonably aligned.
Crisis averted. Except — I still had not delivered on that pesky task that I had planned on accomplishing. So I am still unsure if the whole principle of time-blocking will work for me, other than forcing me to stop being some overly optimistic about how much I can possibly get done in a day.
But I felt good about myself, knowing that I had earned more respect from my team. I had put my team’s concerns ahead of mine, and by so doing, had demonstrated that I was a leader worth following.