Sunday, May 4, 2014

Getting your time to scale

(Inspired by:

By it's very nature, time doesn't scale.  You can't "bank" time.  You can't store it.  You can't make more of it.  Time is one of those resources that is always fleeting. 

And yet, it's also one of the most important resources that you have.  While you can't bank it, you do always get more time, since after every second you get more seconds. 

As a leader, you have to spend time.  You have to spend time working.  You spend time with your people.  You spend time walking around.  As you get more senior, you have more people working for you, and yet the same amount of time in a day.  Automation will only get you so much, so you quickly run into the problem of not having enough time to properly spend on issues.  Plus, many people believe their issues are number one on priority, so you face a problem of competing priorities, all competing for a static amount of your time.

What the Navy has done is place a multitude of competing priorities on every officer, and the result is that the bosses priorities are always number one, and everything else runs second.  This would normally work fine.  In the days of sail, COs were given direction, sent off to far away lands, and while voyaging they balanced their bosses priorities with the reality of the situation they were in.  Now, in the age of chat and wireless, we are at the mercy of anyone who wants to meddle in someone else's affairs.  The result is that we get what every higher headquarters wants done, and in too many cases very little of the actual priorities on the ground.

The best way I've seen to tackle this non-scaling of time is mentorship...but not the Navy's contract mentorship.  Real mentorship involves the mentor and protegee getting to know one another, so that the mentor can give very pointed feedback to help the protegee tackle issues.  This relationship knowledge also means that the protegee gets a chance to trust the mentor, so he will actually listen to what is said.

Mentorship is not big speeches by senior leaders.  Mentorship is not the 10 minute BS session in the hallway with one of your passing subordinates.  It's an in-depth relationship, built over time, that makes the mentor and protegee better.

Mentorship is the only way to scale time.  How do you create more people like you, that would follow your decision making process? You mentor.  You help build up the others around you.  Every time we take the 30 minutes a week to sit down and mentor one of our junior officers, we reap the benefit of having that JO convey our thoughts into his direct subordinates.  Over time, the people you mentor should be picking up on your style and requirements, and this should result in you doing less work over time.

And yet, when crunch time happens, mentorship is the first thing to go out the window, since nobody can find the time for it.  We cut ourselves out at the knees every time this happens, and we put ourselves perpetually behind the ball.