All Articles Leadership Inspiration How leaders spend their time tells staff what they value

How leaders spend their time tells staff what they value

4 min read


When I ask senior leaders how they spend their time in their work environment, they report three things more frequently than any other activities.

  • Meetings with direct reports.
  • Evaluating and analyzing performance data.
  • Addressing performance problems.

Certainly, these are important behaviors for senior leaders. But are these the most beneficial activities senior leaders can engage in? I don’t think so — and will explain in a few paragraphs why.

Why do senior leaders engage in these activities? My experience and research tells me that leader behaviors are driven by three factors: role models from their past, their social style or personality type, and the organization’s culture.

So senior leaders do meetings, analysis of data and address performance problems because they’ve seen those behaviors role modeled by others, the behaviors fit their social style, and the organizational culture reinforces those activities.

Another issue arises as we look at senior leaders’ activities. Their integrity is compromised when their activities — how they spend their time — are inconsistent with what they say is important in their workplace.

For example, senior leaders may say that “people are our most important asset,” yet choose not to delegate authority to team members to act independently in the moment. Senior leaders may say that they have an open-door policy yet spend so much time in meetings and problem-solving discussions that their door is closed or they’re not in their office when a staffer drops by.

In my studies of high performing, values-aligned organizations, a constant is that every senior leader sees his or her role as a “chief culture officer.” They allocate time and energy to proactively manage their most important asset — their corporate culture. Their plans, decisions, and actions are easily seen as being aligned to their stated responsibilities to ensure a safe, inspiring workplace for all.

These leaders take the time to define clear purpose, values, strategy and goals for their organization in today’s world, and they help communicate how staff members contribute to those vital elements.

These leaders invest time in observing by wandering around, connecting one-on-one with frontline team leaders and frontline employees and asking how things are going. “What can we do to make your job easier?” is a common question these leaders ask. As they learn about issues that get in the way, they address those gaps with help from those in-the-know” (frontline team members).

They observe team meetings at all levels of the organization to learn what’s working and what’s not. They praise progress as well as accomplishment — they know that too often effort is ignored.

They spend less time in meetings with direct reports and more time observing their direct reports on the job, helping them praise progress, celebrate traction and value citizenship in their functional groups.

They spend more time helping all leaders and managers learn to effectively address performance issues and misaligned values in their workplace.

On average, these inspiring senior leaders spend 60-70% of their time championing their desired organizational culture, and it pays off beautifully. Our culture clients report gains of 40% in employee engagement, 40% in customer service, and 30% in profits in 18 to 24 months of aligned effort.

What are your activities saying to your team members about what you value? How often do your senior leaders observe by wandering around and connect with you on how things are going? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Corporate culture survey: What is it like to work in your company culture? Contribute your experiences in my fast, free Performance-Values Assessment. Results and analysis are available on the research page of my website: Driving Results Through Culture.

Podcast: Listen to this post with the player below. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes. The music heard on these podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.

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