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How Leaders Manage Their Time

June 17, 2024 by Twan van de Kerkhof

The effectiveness of leaders is partly defined by how they manage their time, their scarcest resource. No matter how hard they work and how many hours they put in, there is never enough time. Professor Nitin Nohria of Harvard Business School has defined a framework for how leaders should respond to unforeseen events (which inevitably happen and thwart that perfect strategy). In Harvard Busines Review of Jan/Feb 2024 he distinguishes four quadrants:

  1. Normal noise: small issues that are likely to remain small. The leader’s task is not to get drawn in. Delegate, trust, verify.
  2. Clarion calls: significant issues that are likely to remain significant. Often easy to identify, seriousness is obvious. Leader’s task: be all-in.
  3. Whisper warnings: small issues that might become significant. Leader’s task: use your intuition to judge which minor issues could become troublesome and nip them in the bud.
  4. Siren songs: significant issues that are likely to diminish over time. Leader’s task: don’t overreact, but watch and wait.

The best leaders in my view make a difference in the second and especially the third quadrant. They act visibly and mobilize the organization on the issues that count. Ineffective leaders fall for the temptation to spend too much energy in the first and fourth quadrant, where actions must be taken but should be left to others. How do you spend your time?