For Leaders, Creativity Comes First

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

The polite version of the comment I often get when I suggest to a business leader that they consider taking time to work ON (as opposed to IN) their business is, “I don’t have time to go to the bathroom as it is, and you want me to do what?” A truth is, of course, as leader you don’t have time NOT to work on your business. Get your nose up off the grindstone, take a bathroom break if you need one, and figure out how to be creative about your business, the market, the competition and your leadership.

I fell into this routine almost by accident several decades ago when our company first started using a company-wide calendar. It quickly became apparent that if I didn’t do something, I was going to wind up spending all my time in meetings and having no time at all to execute on the tasks I took on from the meetings. I began blocking out personal work time (PWT) on my calendar so that people could not schedule me for that block of time and I could concentrate on getting work done. I also “strongly suggested’ that my team do the same. We learned to keep it reasonable, perhaps a couple of hours three days a week. We also learned to make that PWT at the time we were most creative. For some that was during the morning, for others it was the afternoon. Meetings were therefore forced to be mostly during our non-creative hours.

The interesting thing for me is that I found that running my own practice has not really changed the need for PWT very much. I thought that since I’m on my own, that I would be 100% in control of my calendar. Wrong! So I still put PWT on my calendar. Mostly to remind myself not to overbook myself with client meetings. But also to allow time for creativity, education and reflection. It requires even more discipline to make that time sacrosanct, focused and creative. It is painful to push a client meeting out and very tempting to sacrifice that PWT for a meeting. I’ve learned from many years of doing this now, that it is a mistake to allow all but a true emergencies to steal my PWT away.

Leaders need to be strategic, creative and visionary. It is impossible to be so when in the middle of everyday tasks. So how do you manage to make the time? I admit it isn’t easy, and it takes a lot self-discipline, planning ahead, yes, and leader development. Others must be able to make decisions without coming to you. To be in control, you have to learn to give control to others.

So pick the best time of day for you to do the most creative and inspired thinking about the “big picture.” Block a reasonable amount of time off on your calendar – say two hours in the morning every day for owners and CEOs. During that time: no e-mails, no phone calls and no employees knocking on the door. In fact, if possible, don’t even go into the office during that time. I am confident that, based on my experience, you will be amazed at how you develop clarity about the truly important things such as company culture, market shifts, major initiatives, etc. Do yourself a favor. Implement your PWT and really stick to it for at least one month to give it a good try. I’ll bet, like me, you find it a non-negotiable item going forward.