Time and Attention

Time and attentionYears ago when I was starting my business career I would occasionally meet my father-in-law at a small diner for what we called our “businessman’s lunch”. My father-in-law was a character. He often called his father-in-law “The Kaiser” after his German heritage. He had lots of nicknames for me as well but, I digress.

During these meetings Jack would ask me all sorts of questions about work and how I handled the situations that I found myself in. When I was promoted to a middle management position he’d offer insights and suggestions that sometimes annoyed me but always challenged me to think differently.

During one of our lunches, Jack asked me about the amount of time I spent with each of my subordinates? “Who do you spend most of your time with – your good managers or your poor managers?” “Well, my poor managers of course,” I answered quickly. “They need my help the most, and my job is to help them get better.” I admitted to him that, in fact, I spent very little time with my best managers because the poor ones were taking virtually all my time. “Well,” Jack said, “I wouldn’t want to work for you!” I was surprised by the comment. “Why not?” I asked. “I think I’m pretty good at what I do.” He answered with a smile, “I’d be one of your best managers. But, how long would I work for you if you didn’t give me your time and attention to make me even better?”

Once again, Jack had me looking at things differently. And, it proved to be a valuable lesson.

I began spending equal time. I found the good managers energized and challenged me, whereas the poor ones sapped my energy and frustrated me. The poor managers often didn’t “get” or “want” their jobs. I was spending (wasting, actually) time with the wrong group. As Jim Collins notes in “Good to Great”, “we have a wrong person on the bus and we know it. Yet we wait, we delay, we try alternatives, we give a third and fourth chance, we hope that the situation will improve, we invest time in trying to properly manage the person, we build little systems to compensate for his shortcomings, and so forth. But the situation doesn’t improve.”

Think of the payoff when you give your best people your time and attention. Helping the best get even better benefits you both. So, take them for a “businessman’s lunch”. Challenge them to think differently.

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