Successful CEOs aren't 'busy'

by Evan Davies, Chief Executive - QLD | |   Leadership
Successful CEOs aren't 'busy'

Several high-profile CEOs have defied the paradigm of constant busyness. They argue that CEOs need to be devoting their time to thinking and leading, i.e., 'the big picture stuff', rather than the 'doing'.

Warren Buffett, the CEO extraordinaire, isn't 'busy'. By his own estimate, he has spent 80% of his career reading and thinking.

Buffett's schedule may seem extreme, but several high-profile CEOs have also defied the paradigm of constant busyness. They argue that critical thinking time is essential, particularly in our complex, rapidly-changing digital economy.

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, for example, makes his executives spend four hours per week, just thinking. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, schedules 2 hours of uninterrupted thinking time per day. Bill Gates is famous for taking a week off twice a year just to reflect deeply without interruption.

"Your job as an executive is to edit, not write. It's OK to write once in a while but if you do it often there's a fundamental problem with the team. Every time you do something ask if you're writing or editing and get in the mode of editing." This now famous quote by Jack Dorsey was the basis of discussion at a recent CEO Institute Syndicate meeting.

As Dorsey says, if you spend too much time 'writing', there is not enough time left for 'editing'. In other words, CEOs need to be devoting their time to setting the direction and leading, i.e., 'the big picture stuff', rather than the 'doing'. As the group pointed out, if your team don't know where you are headed, no one will be able to think for themselves.

But how does one stop doing? Our members discussed this at length, and shared ideas on what works for them. Here is a summary of their suggestions:

  1. Schedule regular blank space in your calendar

    Our members were all very disciplined with how they spend their time. They all ensure they have regular blank space in their schedule to think and plan. This time is sacred. They let people know that they won't respond to emails or phone calls during these times, unless there's an emergency.

  2. Reschedule or shorten meetings

    One member suggested setting aside 15 minutes every Monday to review the meetings that are set up for the week and compare them to your priorities. If a meeting isn't a high priority, reschedule it or shorten it.

  3. Prune your to-do list

    Most of meetings lead to action steps. Over the course of the week, tasks pile up and your to-do list can become so long that it's unrealistic for one person to complete. Rather than blindly checking off items as they come up, use your thinking time to review the list and evaluate which ones are truly a priority.

  4. Identify your top three outcomes for the week

    Besides planning your week and reviewing your to-do list, set three goals for your thinking time to ensure you get the maximum impact from those open hours.

So, it seems the message is to become less 'busy' in the conventional sense, but refine what busy means as CEO. Your most important job as CEO is to think. This is what successful CEOs are 'busy' doing.


The CEO Institute was founded in 1992. It is now Australia's leading membership organisation for CEOs and senior executives. It provides a forum for over 1,000 Chief Executive members to connect and share their learning with each other. In 2011, The CEO Institute became the world’s first global certification body for CEOs, and in 2013, partnered with UNESCO in support of the "Malala Fund for Girls' Right to Education". In 2014, they began offering their programs globally.
 
The CEO Syndicate is an exclusive peer support network for CEOs. The first meeting of The CEO Syndicate program was held in Melbourne in June 1992. Offices were opened in Adelaide in 1996 and Sydney and Brisbane in 1997, with Perth launching in 2007. In 2015, the New Zealand office opened.
 
The Future CEO program is a certification course designed by the business leaders of today for the business leaders of tomorrow. The first Future CEO meeting was held in Melbourne in May 2012. In 2014, the "Future CEO Scholarship Fund for Women" was established, and continues to be offered today.

Membership of The CEO Institute is by invitation only. To register your interest click enquire.

 

 

 

 

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