How to make time to lead when you are busy and have no time to lead
The writer

How to make time to lead when you are busy and have no time to lead

IS it possible to be a leader and not have enough time to lead? Yes! Many Ieadors have often expressed their desire to spend more time leading their teams, Despite their good intentions, they are overwhelmed with work and have little time to lead.


Consider Kofi, the first-time leader, promoted because of his outstanding performance as an individual contributor. Kofi loves the job, and now that he has a significant target and a team to lead, he dedicates the time to doing what he loves best so he can hit the stretch target and not dent his reputation as an achiever. Kofi is not the only one struggling to find the time to lead his team.

Even experienced leaders sometimes fail to find the time to lead:

Again, consider the case of Efua, an excellent Managing Director. Unfortunately, the business environment has become very challenging, and Efua is losing her leadership touch in the chaos.

She has a fully packed schedule, which includes meeting stakeholders, delivering on projects and ensuring the firm has enough resources to meet all obligations, including staff salaries.

Efua has never had time to share the plan for the year or lead the team to reflect on the lessons from the previous year and how the firm might improve.

She has not been able to check in with her direct reports and learn about the state of some of the medium-term actions implemented to improve the business.

Efua is not alone. The heads of departments at her firm have not had the time to go through the performance review process with staff despite numerous emails from the Head of HR because they are all busy.

The effects of the limited time for leadership can be devastating for leaders and the organisation as a whole. Over time, leaders who do not take the time to reflect on their performance and that of their direct reports may begin to notice a lack of accountability among their team members.

When this happens, they even dig in, continue to work harder and implement more surveillance systems.

Leaders burn out when they don't make time to lead:

Doing more work and increasing surveillance cause leaders to burn out, become frustrated, lose focus, and their Ieadership deteriorate sharply:

Research has shown that such unfortunate developments also hurt family life.

All the above can lead to a crisis that requires leaders to take time off work to recover.

How can Ieaders avoid this tortuous downward spiral? I suggest the actions leaders can take to win the battle against time and lead themselves and their teams to success.

Clarify what it means to lead:

Clarifying the task of leadership is the first step to making sure leaders make time to do the business of leading During my sessions with leaders, whenever there is any doubt as to what leaders do, we take the opportunity to clarify what it means to lead and manage.

Leaders lead people and manage tasks. They get the job done through other people.

Every leader must first communicate the team's aspirations, clarify what excellent performance on the job means, assign responsibilities, equip and train team members to excel in their current and future roles, review performance and provide developmental feedback that enables time members to grow.

Doing all the above while engaging team members with respect and trust creates a meaningful relationship necessary for sustainable performance. Without this perspective on leadership, many leaders spend all the time managing tasks and ignoring the important business of winning the hearts and minds of the people. Leaders must be busy leading and not managing.

Remind yourself of the benefits of making time to lead the team:

Choosing the easier route of doing the work yourself faster may seem tempting, but it is not sustainable for leaders.

Getting on the path of making time to lead means that leaders must articulate for themselves the benefits of changing their schedule to focus more on the people they lead.

When highly successful leaders know the importance of an action to the firm, they go for it.


Making time to engage in conversations that foster a deeper understanding of the motivations and aspirations of your team members may seem like time-wasting.

Leaders who deeply understand the benefits of this activity view it as a means to inspire exceptional performance that is unachievable through traditional reward and punishment methods.

Team members put in extra effort for leaders who care about them, not the firm they have no connection to.

Schedule important leadership engagements, start small and create routines:

Gaining clarity on what leaders do and why they lead are the first steps, but that’s not all. The most significant contributor to leadership effectiveness is what gets on the leader's calendar. Therefore, leaders must schedule the time for their leadership.


The leader who wants to start leading despite the busy schedule will not be able to undo all the months of "absent leadership" immediately but must start small. Scheduling thirty minutes to have a performance conversation with a team member is a small but critical step.

Sadly, waiting for an opportunity to block a whole day to have all the performance conversations with team members may never work out.

Create a routine to share the firm's aspirations and update the team on some of the significant developments taking place in the company.

It's your job as a leader to create enthusiasm around the future of the business, though the future may seem bleak.


There is every reason and opportunity for leaders to leaders to lead not matter how busy they are because every available time is a chance to lead. 

Becoming more intentional about lead allows leaders to focus on leading their teams to success instead of doing the work themselves. Start small and create routines that work best for you. You may not be perfect, but you be making progress.

Be of good cheer.

The writer is a Leadership Development Facilitator, Executive Coach and Strategy Consultant, Founder of the CEO Accelerator Program ( and Chief Learning Strategist at TEMPLE Advisory (

The mission of The Leadership Project is to harvest highly effective leadership practices and share them in a manner that other leaders can easily incorporate into their leadership practice.

If you have an idea or leadership practice to share, kindly write to [email protected]. Until you read from us again, keep leading.... from leader to leader, one practice at a time.

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