Perhaps this article should have been included in a self-help book instead of on this website. It took me too many years to understand the difference between taking time for people and making time for people. The difference may seem subtle and not obvious to others, but for me, it was a significant shift in how I approached others, managed, and lead.
By way of background, I have always been on-the-go. I move from one task to another, easily frustrated by any white space or down time between activities. Even on the weekends, if I sleep in to 7:00AM, I am frustrated with how much time I have wasted! Years ago, a colleague told me to slow down or I would have a heart attack. I told him that I couldn’t have a heart attack. When he asked why, I told him that having a heart attack was not on my to-do list for that day! He laughed, but I was serious. Similarly, when I was told that I did not have any patience I would reply: “I have patience, lots of patience. In fact, I have more patience than most people. I just don’t have time to use it!” I had several bosses who gave me essentially the same advice: “Slow down for the rest of us.” I wore that reputation like a badge of honor; how stupid!
I coupled these “attributes” with the unhealthy need to be in the office earlier than everyone else and stay later than everyone else. I rationalized these behaviors as leading by example. It was well into my career that I realized that I was not leading by example. Instead, I was unconsciously leading by intimidation or guilt. Although I never expected anyone to duplicate the time and intensity that I regularly exhibited, others felt that it was necessary or, perhaps, even required.
Finally, as a result of participating in some consultant-driven personality coaching sessions with my staff and 360 review sessions, I realized that I needed to “take time for people.” How silly is that? In fact, I put a small note with seven simple reminders on a slip of paper on my laptop computer keyboard that I read every morning as I opened it. The first item was “take time for people”. I am sure that most readers of this article will be dumbfounded thinking that I had to remind myself of such a basic issue. Unfortunately, it is true. When I first started doing this, it unnerved those individuals in which I did, in fact, take time to be with. They were uneasy, expecting my old self to pop up any moment and make demands of them, start speaking quickly, look at my watch, or just abruptly walk away.
Although the mechanics of my “taking time” seemed to work, something was clearly missing. The activity became a daily “check-the-box” activity; it was on my to-do list and was not coming from my heart. Finally, it dawned on me; I was, indeed, TAKING time. But, I was consciously taking time from other tasks. I was forcing myself to stop doing other things to take time for people. Once I realized that, I understood that taking time for people should not be a burdensome task that gets in the way of the “more important” things that I had to do. Instead, I needed to MAKE time for others; not to tell them what to do, how to do it, or to check up on what they were doing. Instead, I needed to make personal connections with them. I needed to ask not tell, listen not speak, and weigh not judge.
So, instead of fitting people into my (still) hectic schedule, I made people part of it. I took time to listen and interact, and not look at my watch or think of the other “more important” things to do. Virtually every manager in every company says that “our people are our most important asset” and believe it. However, it is easy to say those words, but from my own experience, it is easy to not “walk the talk”.
I still don’t stop to smell the roses, but I make sure that I do not trample them either. Make sure you make time and don’t just take time for others. The quality time that you spend with people will pay huge dividends. As they get more comfortable with you, they will get more comfortable with their work and the entire environment. Watch morale jump when people realize that you are, indeed, human and caring.
I hope that most of you find this article a waste of time because you have always made time for people. It took me too long to learn that simple life lesson.