Don't manage time, invest it in people

Gary Bradt
Tags: talent management

Time management is a grand idea when dealing with the things in your life. It’s all about organization, efficiency and getting things done. As a tool for leading people through change, however, it misses the mark. In fact, when leading change, the last thing you want to do is manage your time. Instead, invest it in the people with potential to become change leaders themselves, and the returns you get may surprise you. What follows is an incredible story that illustrates the point.

A few years ago, I became upset when a player on the National Football League’s Carolina Panthers beat up a teammate and subsequently was suspended for one measly game by the team. I felt this punishment was too lax (after all, the attacked teammate ended up in the hospital) and wrote an angry letter to the teams’ owner, Jerry Richardson, expressing as much. Mr. Richardson not only acknowledged my letter after I figured it would end up in the trash, but he went one giant-step further. He offered to come visit my 13-year-old son, who was a big fan of the team’s, and me, along with the star player in question, wide receiver Steve Smith.

They made the two-hour drive each way from team headquarters to my home and stayed with us for three hours. I learned that day that Steve Smith is a good man who made a bad mistake and was willing to learn and take responsibility for his actions. I admire him greatly for that. From Richardson, I learned the power of a leader being personally invested in future leaders who can make a difference.

Jerry Richardson invested time in me that day, but more importantly, he invested time and energy in Steve Smith, someone with potential to lead changes on the field of play. I can only imagine the discussions they had as they drove back and forth and the bonds they forged and then carried forward. It’s no coincidence that the following season, Smith emerged as the team’s biggest star and helped lead them to a Super Bowl appearance.

Richardson identified Smith as someone I call a “diamond-in-the-rough,” a leader of untapped potential. Then, he personally invested his time and energy to help Steve unleash his potential. You can do much the same for the uncut diamonds in your organization. Here are five tips to help get you started.

1) Hold yourself accountable for people development. Common comfort zones such as crunching numbers and formulating strategy have their place, but both are useless if you don’t have leaders in place to execute. Therefore, hold yourself accountable for the people side of the equation, too. Recognize more pressing issues will always come up, so do whatever it takes to make finding and developing people a priority. Schedule time into your calendar for building relationships. Make a list or create a spreadsheet to track your progress if you must. Set goals for people development and hold yourself to them.

2) Identify your Steve Smiths, or your “diamonds-in-the-rough.” You can’t invest in your future change leaders if you don’t know who they are. Some “diamonds” are obvious. Their talent and ability dazzles and stands out, but others may require energy and effort to unearth. This may be especially true if you work in a large organization where talented people lay buried within the bureaucracy. In this case, use Tom Peters’ old technique of management by walking around. Get out of your comfort zone. Visit places in your organization where you don’t know as many people. Talk to at least one new person a day. Take the new guy or woman to lunch. When you visit remote sites, make it a point to meet people relevant to your line of business, then, follow up with those you meet.

3)Once you find them,don’t delegate your “diamond” development. Certainly human resources and your training department have a role to play in polishing future leaders’ skills and capabilities. But the savviest leaders take personal responsibility for helping people grow. Once you have identified the people you think could be future change leaders for your organization, get personally involved in their development. Jerry Richardson answered my letter and placed the initial call to me. He invited Steve Smith to join him on his visit. Richardson even drove the car himself. He didn’t delegate these duties; he owned them as his. Poor time management? Perhaps. But, poor time management often creates the conditions for great change leadership to occur.

4) Polish your gems by asking questions. The best leaders ask questions – lots of them. They don’t invest much time in running around telling people what to do. In fact, they don’t hire people who have to wait to be told what to do. Instead, they unleash talent by presenting problems and asking for ideas vs. offering solutions. They understand their job is to lead, not do. They encourage people to think. They encourage people to act. They remove organizational roadblocks that hold talent back. They ask questions versus bark orders.

5) Explore ideas and build relationships beyond the boundaries of work. Engage people on a variety of topics beyond your common industry issues. Refining someone’s leadership often means helping them look beyond the confines of their everyday world for novel solutions and product innovations they can bring back to it. Become emotionally invested, too.Spend time getting to know your future leaders. Find out what matters to them, inside and outside of work. Sometimes engaging in small talk can lead to big insights. You may discover a personal situation that is holding someone down or holding him or her back, such as the illness or loss of a loved one. You may not be able to do anything tangible to help, but simply knowing that you care can be reassuring and provide a boost. If you want people to be there for you when the going gets tough, as it inevitably will when things change, you need to personally invest in them first.

 A Final Word

If investing in people sounds like a “soft” activity to you, you’re right. It is. But rare is the business that can consistently return good, hard results without making soft investments in people first. People determine whether you win or lose, whether the game is football or business or life. To better lead change, stop managing your time and start investing it in people. Then enjoy as the wins pile up.

About the author:
Dr. Gary Bradt is a consultant and speaker whose clients include IBM, General Motors, American Express, General Electric, eBay, FedEx and NASA. His new book, "The Ring In the Rubble: Dig Through Change and Find Your Next Golden Opportunity," will be available from McGraw Hill in June 2007. For more information, visit