February 2023 | Point of View

Business leaders have a responsibility to be effective—not just productive

It’s time for business leaders to prioritize face-to-face collaboration to drive better outcomes

Business leaders have a responsibility to be effective—not just productive

As the world slowly adjusts to a post-pandemic world, many companies are grappling with how to move forward, incorporating what we learned—both the good and not so good. The last three years have seen a shift toward hybrid and remote work, with Zoom and Teams becoming the default for many businesses. However, as we approach the three-year mark of March 2020, when COVID forced us to pivot, it's time to incorporate the lessons learned into our business models and also re-evaluate our priorities as business leaders toward what really matters: being effective leaders, rather than just productive.

Prioritizing productivity makes sense for individual contributors or teams that need to produce high-volume outputs (i.e., cranking work out and completing routine tasks)—these groups report feeling more efficient and productive working without distractions. But we as business leaders at some point transitioned away from this type of work and graduated to more complex leadership—work that involves identifying issues and mobilizing to address them, setting strategy and vision, connecting people across siloes, breaking into new markets, and other highly complex endeavors.

As business and technology leaders, we need to be less concerned with our own throughput and more concerned with how to best spend our time to be our most effective selves. This is what organizations expect and need from their leaders, especially now.

After three years of hybrid and remote work, however, here's what I find today: Too many business leaders in Corporate America aren’t prioritizing in-person interactions under the auspice of personal productivity. Their default priority list is as follows: First, work from the convenience of their home. Second, commute to an office. Third, be with their team. Fourth, attend an in-market event or have a meeting with a vendor/partner (but only if asked). Finally, work directly and in-person with a client or customer.

I think there’s a better way to be a more effective leader: Flip the current default priorities:

  1. Be with your customers. If you're working with a client, it's essential to be on-site or face-to-face with them more often. This will not only lead to better quality interactions, but it will also help build trust—and we all know the power of trust.
  2. Engage in the market. Leaders have a responsibility to be “the face of the organization” in market, networking outside the organization, not just working with current teams. Being available and in person will create new opportunities for personal interactions that lead to relationship expansion.
  3. Nurture relationships. If you're not with customer or in the market, focus on building your team. Spend in-person time with your colleagues and work on building trust-based relationships and culture. Remember, the single most important ingredient in The Trust Equation™ is “intimacy.”
  4. Create opportunity for chance encounters. If you're in the office, make the most of it. Don’t book yourself every hour with more Zoom and Teams meetings with others not in the office. People will see you and being face-to-face will help build relationships and trust. People want to be with and learn from their leaders. The organization expects this from you and that’s why you became a leader in the first place.
  5. Work from home. We all need flexibility and individual working time, but try to prioritize choices 1-4 before defaulting to this choice.

We’ll lose hours every week in productivity by commuting to an office or traveling to a client, I hear. I don’t doubt that, but think of the value you gain by doing those things as a business leader: hearing or experiencing new issues your customers are facing, meeting a new business contact at an industry event, being able to teach your new team member through observation, not online instructions. All of these are trade-offs to the convenience—and yes, productivity—of isolated work.

Join Us!

As CEO of a professional services firm, I’ve seen the shift to remote work affect major, multi-million-dollar, high-risk transformation initiatives. When our clients’ leaders aren’t in person, problem-solving and deep thinking takes longer if not entirely taking a backseat, as does the intimacy that leads to innovation, trust building, and collaboration. All of these things are essential to being effective.

My request: Please join us in the call for business leaders to get face to face. Commit to better outcomes by moving away from the convenience mentality. Team up with us in your office, in ours, at a conference, or at an offsite location. Some of the best ideas happen over a drink or cup of coffee. Some of the best collaboration happens when you turn off the screens and have a human-to-human conversation.

To be effective, we need to be in the right frame of mind, location, energy, and exposure—and as business leaders, that means sometimes we’ll sacrifice a bit of productivity.

Our organizations, teams, and customers need us. See you in the market!


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