After studying a number of organizational leaders at close range, I discovered that they operate in a highly distinctive mental realm when it comes to organization and time management.
In my opinion, what CEOs are really doing in this different realm — the real focus of their time, their core and ongoing project — is what I call managing influence. I first started to understand this phenomenon during an interview with a CEO in which I repeatedly pressed him to describe his “tasks.” Finally he got a bit testy and replied, “Look, there’s just one traditional task I do: I edit drafts of speeches prepared by my speechwriter — and I do that mostly when I’m on a plane. Otherwise, no tasks.”
His retort brought me up short. I finally got it. No tasks.
But in the next breath, I asked myself, “These guys aren’t sitting around watching the flowers grow. So if they’re not doing tasks, then what exactly are they doing?”
Because virtually all their time is spent with others, I deduced that their work had to be conducted in some way through these contacts. By shadowing them, I had discovered, as described earlier, that these contacts were very free-form, consisting mostly of suggestions, questions, observations, and eliciting their direct reports’ views, interwoven with occasional chat about golf, family activities, etc.
What the CEOs were doing, I concluded, was not primarily ordering others, but influencing them through constant contact. So that became my focus: how CEOs use their time to guide their company by influencing others.