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Leadership Roles and Responsibilities

Where should leaders and managers spend their time?

Where leaders and managers should spend their time and focus their attention is a question that is often raised across our many leadership and management programs.

Working in the business versus working on the business

We see too many senior people spending their time ‘working in the business’ dealing with everyday issues and problems that would better be delegated to others, or working on unnecessary tasks that would be better eliminated. This means that their roles and responsibilities as leaders need to be carefully reconsidered.

Research confirms that a typical leader / manager spends 95% of their time ‘doing’ and less than 5% of their time thinking, reflecting, considering ideas, innovating and planning appropriately. These latter activities are the more important tasks associated with ‘working on the business’ that leaders should be doing more off.

The typical leader, often unknowingly, has the balance wrong.

When I shared the ‘5/95’ finding with some business leaders recently they gulped. They quickly mentally calculated that a typical working month is 20 working days and 5% of 20 days is 1 day. Then considering this 1 day to what they typically did during the month then said, “We wish we spent 5% on reflecting”.

A revolution in the roles and responsibilities of leaders and managers

Their openness shines a light on a major issue affecting leadership and what leaders do. There needs to be a careful examination of roles and responsibilities at the highest level in companies then a cascade down to ensure people are doing what truly needs to be done. Moreover, this work should be done after the ‘strategy’ is agreed – a ‘working on the business’ activity. Structure (which incorporates roles and responsibilities) follows strategy.

From this small cross-section of business owners of small-medium sized companies it was clear all their time was consumed in fire-fighting or doing the daily business. There was no time for strategy.

As a result of this conversation, one particular business leader said that they would change how they led their business. He literally planned time out to ‘lead, engage, communicate, be visible, think and reflect’. He found it difficult at first but stuck at it. He now does this naturally and no longer needs to diarise the time (but still does to protect this ‘precious space’).



Professor John Oliver OBE led the business and cultural transformation at Leyland Truck when he was CEO. He is also a regular speaker on our LEAD™ and GAIN™ leadership and innovation programs and his work has inspired the creation of the Quick Win projects that aspiring managers work on during LEADlight. John has also worked with me creating our new online short course ‘Growing Stronger: Leading out of a Crisis’ which has been designed for senior leadership teams. Click here to see a preview.

John suggests that there is a 70/30 sweet spot. He advocates that high performing leaders should spend 70% of their time on culture, strategy, employee engagement, reflection and ideas and 30% of their time on systems, procedures and actions – the everyday management in other words.

Let’s think about that for a minute. If you work a 50 hour week, 70% of your time working on ‘the right culture for your business’ equates to 35 hours a week. So how many hours a week are you doing this now? We know from the comments at the top of this posting that the answer is “not much, if any”.

Change: It’s down to you

It is unlikely that you can immediately stop the 50 hours of ‘doing’ as that will require delegation, change of duties, empowerment etc.

Therefore, if you want to move quickly towards a high performing culture you need to add the 35 hours to the 50 hours you are already working and work 85 hours per week… but have in mind to reduce the 50 hours of ‘doing’ as quickly as possible. This will require supporting your management team to pick up some of this work, help them delegate some of their duties down the organisation and encourage others to have the confidence and step forward to take on more responsibility and be accountable.

It means roles and responsibilities need to be revisited.

So, how do you plan to create the appropriate balance in your company, move from 5/95 towards the 70/30 sweet spot and lead the step change in performance in your business?

These are all questions that are often discussed on our LEAD™ program where we assist business leaders with high performance leadership, amongst other areas. To find out more about the program, contact us here.



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