You are in a funk. Your work has turned into a grind, your calendar is out of control, and issues are growing into problems. The focus and energy that you once had are dissipating. People in your organization have noticed—they describe you as distracted, disengaged and tense. You are the missing-in-action CIO—present in body but not in mind and spirit.
You are not alone. 90 percent of professionals are living a less than purposeful existence—either in a state of disengagement, distraction or procrastination—according to Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal, authors of “Beware the Busy Manager” (Harvard Business Review, February 2002). What state you find yourself in, say the authors, depends on the relative levels of two factors: focus, which is “the ability to zero in on a goal and see the task through to completion,” and energy, defined as “vigor that is fueled by intense personal commitment.”
Most likely, you started off in your current position with a strong sense of purpose and the ability to see problems and solutions in stark relief. You defined and tackled your laser-sharp agenda with limitless energy and enthusiasm. But as time passed, you lost interest or ran into obstacles or got overloaded and joined the suffering 90 percent.
Great leaders understand how to renew their leadership agenda. They have the self-awareness and self-discipline to identify and overcome their malaise. Many of us have used job-hopping as a primary means of leadership renewal. Although crude (in that it does not force you to face the root causes of your leadership malaise), it is effective—as long as there is a strong job market and you are a hot commodity. Now more than ever, given the weak economy and aging demographic, the ability to renew your focus and energy and regain your purposeful footing is important. If you are ready to take back your job, here’s what you should do.
Make the time. It should come as no surprise to learn that purposeful leaders schedule time on their calendars to think and reflect. Many hectic managers find this task almost impossible and require outside assistance from a trusted adviser to help them do calendar analysis and surgery. Since your schedule consists primarily of meetings, the easiest way to make time is to reduce the frequency and duration of meetings (try saying, “When someone asks for one hour, they get half an hour”), eliminate certain meetings (“I don’t meet with vendors”) and activities (“My assistant answers my phone and reviews e-mails” or “I read e-mails and check voice mail once a day”), and delegate project work that you have picked up along the way.
Open your eyes. Balanced feedback will motivate and sharpen your focus and build your commitment on the issues and opportunities that need to be addressed. Go regularly to the front lines of your organization (where your employees interact with their customers and suppliers) to assess your positioning and identify opportunities around shareholder value, customer service and cost-effectiveness.
Get others involved. Leaders aren’t expected to have all the answers, and leadership is not a solitary pursuit. A collaborative process of defining goals, strategies, priorities and tactics will strengthen commitment, increase your influence and energize everyone involved. In addition, if you are risk-averse, sharing priorities and responsibilities will go a long way to quiet your fears about the career impact of setbacks and failures. For more information on strategy-making, see my previous column A Crash Course in Strategic Planning.
Express yourself. Someone once said, it is easier to maintain your focus and energy if your career expresses who you are rather than what you do. Look at a CIO who is an adrenaline junkie (with hobbies like car racing, flying and downhill skiing). The CIO role is going to drive him crazy unless he figures out a way to keep initiatives on a fast cycle time and lets people with a longer attention span run operations.
Work with a net. If the prospect of losing your job makes you queasy, you need a safety net that gives you the freedom to define your leadership focus and approach. Some of you are blessed with a mental safety net (your outlook is that “everything is going to be OK”), while the rest need something more tangible—safety nets that ensure that your financial needs will be met. There’s nothing like money in the bank and the ability to earn a living as a contractor or consultant to give you the courage to take risks, make hard decisions and negotiate effectively.
The leadership renewal process I’ve outlined here requires that you leave your “old” job, assess your effectiveness, and replace yourself with a more effective successor. Do yourself and your organization a favor: Mentally fire yourself today and walk in tomorrow like it’s your first day on the job.