Leaders have expressed for years how hard it is to find time to address those important-but-not-urgent tasks made famous by President Eisenhower’s two-by-two matrix. Today, finding time takes on a new urgency. When leaders are squeezed by new operating modes, increased turnover, longer hiring cycles, and more demands on their work-life balance, they find it hard to step back and think about longer trajectories and broader frames. In fact, according to a survey of 2,800 workers by staffing firm Robert Half, nearly 70% of professionals who transitioned to remote work as a result of the pandemic report that they now work on the weekends, and 45% say they regularly work more hours during the week than they did previously. For many leaders, it feels as if there are simply not enough hours in their days to fit everything in.

To free up time, leaders must grow the capabilities of their teams to take on the tasks they themselves execute. This, paradoxically, requires more leadership time in the short term. There are two key steps that leaders at every level can take to empower their teams to take on more:

  1. Leaders must focus on what we here at Insight Experience call Teach Not Tell. This means that, rather than merely giving team members instruction, they must build skills in them that will prepare them.
  2. Leaders must concurrently and consciously push decisions downward rather than make every decision themselves.

These two actions, taken together, can have a significant impact on the generation of more time for a leader in that important-but-not-urgent quadrant of the Eisenhower Matrix.

Leaders who successfully incorporate a teaching mindset do not come by that skill naturally; it takes conscious effort and practice. Many begin applying this skill in formal interactions, scheduled planning meetings, or other instances in which they historically make choices or detail actions for their teams. In these types of circumstances, the leader can — instead of providing answers — pause and spend a few extra minutes offering advice and perspective. Eventually, this subtle shift becomes second nature and works its way into all problem-solving. When the Teach Not Tell mindset becomes a part of one’s daily routine, time is saved and employees expand their capabilities.

Leaders also successfully free up time by pushing decisions downward in their organization. In 2021, researchers Yemisi Bolade-Ogunfodun, Ben Laker, Marcello Mariani, and Lebene Soga surveyed nearly 1,200 remote work employees and leaders and concluded that:

“The rise of remote work has made managers feel like they need to be involved in every part of the business to be successful, but this can have adverse effects on team effectiveness. To win, everyone on the team must play their part — and managers may need to orchestrate and facilitate that process.”

This is not a hands-off exercise. Decision delegation requires careful attention and clear processes. Decisions may need to be subdivided or monitored differently. New outcome metrics may need to be incorporated into weekly or monthly reporting. More senior-level leaders in the organization may need to become comfortable with the change, and it might be necessary to adjust approval processes.

Once these structural changes are complete and leaders have transferred knowledge and know-how to their direct reports, delegation accelerates. Not only do leaders get additional time for critical long-term thinking but they also have more highly developed and engaged organizations, thereby multiplying the benefits.

Although these are but two of many tools to free up leadership time, they can result in powerful shifts and can give leaders who practice them the space to address the longer-term needs and broader opportunities that will position their business for future success.

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