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The Gift of Time

Tattoo these three numbers on your brain: 30/70/30. If you do not remember anything else about leadership, these numbers will keep you focused on what is important.

The first number represents the average engagement of the US workforce. According to Gallup, only 30% of all US workers are actively engaged at work. That means 70% are NOT actively engaged. No organization can thrive long-term with this level of engagement. Moving this number is key to long-term success.

The second number represents the percentage of engagement that can be attributable to the manager or supervisor. How the leader leads their team is the most important factor for the engagement of a team. This number does not change; however, it should motivate every positional leader to look in the mirror.

The third number represents the average amount of one-on-one time leaders spend with direct reports. According to research, the typical leader devotes an average of 30 minutes every three weeks one-on-one with direct reports. When the third number is doubled, disengagement is reduced by 67%.

Quality time communicates you care.

My wife is big on traditions that foster quality time for our family. When our kids were younger, one such tradition was family lunch every Saturday at a local burger restaurant. The kids would bring a deck of cards, and we often lingered long after we were done eating. One Saturday I suggested we go through the drive-thru to save time. The result was a near rebellion. I quickly learned that Saturday lunch wasn’t about the food—it was about connection. Time together is how my wife and kids feel loved.

Quality time with others, like all relationship deposits, rarely feels like the most efficient use of our time. However, the trust dividend that results has a multiplier effect on engagement and team cohesion.

Of course, quality time doesn’t always have to be planned. Sometimes those spontaneous moments are more impactful than the scheduled ones. However, connecting with others does require us to be present physically and emotionally.

In the race to be productive, it is easy to miss the importance of connecting with others. This is especially true when we are overcommitted; we want every conversation to be as efficient as possible. However, making deposits in relationships is rarely efficient. Relationships are messy, and it takes time and intentionality to communicate we care and build high trust. This is true both at work and at home.

Creating time for others means saying no to something else.

Back to the numbers. Increase the third number and the first number goes up. Leaders who invest time and energy in connecting and coaching communicate they care, and caring is a key ingredient for engagement and long-term results.

For most leaders, this is easier said than done. If you are already overcommitted, the only way to create more time for people is to say no to something else. Start by taking a personal inventory of how you spend your time. How much time are you spending connecting and coaching versus with administrative tasks? View every activity through the lens of the mission.

What most leaders discover through this exercise is they are working one or two levels down from where they should be. If that describes you, test every commitment on your to-do list by asking the following questions:

  • Can it be discontinued because it is not contributing to the success of the mission?

  • Can it be scaled back and achieve substantially similar results?

  • Can it be systematized or automated to minimize my time commitment?

  • Should it be delegated because someone else can do it more efficiently, or delegated as an opportunity to grow my team members?

Build these questions into your daily routine. The value of this simple discipline is it forces you to think critically about how you invest your time. As you free up space on your calendar, block that time for connecting and coaching. This is a virtuous cycle. The more time spent relationship building, the more engaged the team becomes. The more engaged the team becomes, the more time that is freed up to focus on connecting and coaching and other high level priorities.


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