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By the time you read this, you'll be a full month into 2016. For most of us, New Year's resolutions will be already in the rear view mirror. There's one New Year's resolution, though, that we should attempt to keep on life support: time management. We've been told that behind dieting, time management is the second most important New Year's resolution. And it kind of makes sense. How we spend our time should reflect our priorities. Sadly, though, that is not often the case. Just the opposite, we tend to spend time on urgent, but un-important, issues that derive little value.

We've got a simple exercise, though, to increase our awareness of exactly how we're spending our time. It isn't entirely unlike a Work Week Critique—an exercise that many power stations and manufacturing facilities conduct to see if they spent their time as hoped or as scheduled.

On a scratch sheet of paper, draw a pie chart. Then start asking questions. How much of my time was spent in the field? How much of my time was spent in important meetings? Unimportant meetings? How much of my time was spent on strategic, structural issues? How much of my time was spent on tactical problem solving that demanded an answer? How much of my time was spent on personnel issues such as staffing or training or mentoring? How much of my time was spent on administrative functions? These are just a sampling of questions that you can ask yourself regarding last week's allocation of time.

We did this exercise two weeks ago with one of our protégés. During the exercise, we noticed that he was spending 30% of his time on administrative functions and another 45% of his time on meetings—75% of his 60-hour week disappeared into these two areas! This exercise, of course, sparked some meaningful questions—can this be delegated? What meetings can I just say NO to? We checked in after a couple of weeks. While the percentages weren't quantum shifts, as he now spends 20% of his time on administrative tasks and 33% of his time in meetings, he estimated that he got 2 hours of his week back. He chose to spend it out in the field with his employees. His quote—not ours—is, "Two hours may not seem like much, or anything really, but I'm a believer that greatness is at the margins. These two hours in the field have brought me closer to my people, and now I've got a better handle of some of the issues they face."

At ELP, we can help. To learn more about how we can sync up your time management issues with your professional/personal strategic priorities, we invite you to email Robin Bichy for a professional consultation at

Okay, we're tricky, but if you look around, it is amazing what we can learn to do and not to do from the decisions and behaviors of others. Remarkably, on the same flight mentioned above, we also saw exactly what NOT to do. Yes, in the same 65 minute flight we witnessed both the victory and defeat of a leadership orientation.

About 10 rows back from us, a passenger did what many passengers do—he listened to music. Unlike other passengers, however, he decided to do it without headphones. To make matters worse, this passenger seemed to be both hearing impaired and ALSO a Britney Spears fan. When we say loud, we are sure that the pilots could hear it from the cockpit.

Here's where the leadership lessons begin. First, and to our utter and total amazement, the passengers to his left or right did nothing. They didn't intervene. A bunch of hands went up to hit the flight attendant button. Here’s how the flight attendant, who through the entire flight tried to juggle handing out drinks in short order and picking up trash on a deadline, responded via intercom announcing, "This is a reminder that all movies and music must be enjoyed using headphones." This didn’t dissuade our Britney Spears fan who was waist deep in her greatest hits. Sadly, the flight attendant made this announcement at least four more times. It never worked, and amazingly, if not laughable, he kept trying the same tactic. Nobody slept. You couldn’t possibly read. What we got was 65 minutes of Britney’s best.

This was a problem. Make no mistake, it's a crippling problem that most organizations face. The problem is managing by exception rather than dealing with the bad actor. In this case, we had one person that was violating procedures and impinging on the privacy of others. Rather than dealing with that one person, the flight attendant tried to send out a blanket statement. That doesn't work, it wasn't needed, and it's incredibly inefficient. 149 passengers didn't need to hear the message—only 1 did. We all suffered, because the flight attendants and other passengers lacked the moral courage to simply say, "Would you mind turning that down or putting on your earphones?"

Often, regulators will come in and find some violation of a given standard. Sometimes, it can even be an egregious violation of the standard. However, in our experience, it is often the work of a few—not the masses. Rather than dealing with the subpar performance or the behavioral problems of a few, some feel compelled to publish new procedures and enact new policies that make everyone suffer. Put differently, we manage by exception. Instead of holding the few accountable that need to be, we put restraints and hardship on everyone. From the flight example above and from our own years of experience, the most significant contributing factor here is the lack of moral courage to confront the one or two bad actors. It is much easier to just issue a department or organization-wide decree. Again just like the example above, we know that it never works. The bad actors don’t listen to rules or decrees or policies. If they did, they wouldn’t be playing Britney Spears at 100 decibels in the first place.

So, in this month's Leadership In Action piece, we urge you not to give in to the Dilbert notion of managing by exception and penalizing all for the behavior of a few. Next time a regulator comes in and delivers some bad news ask yourself, "Am I going to overreact and punish the whole, or am I going to be responsible and courageous and deal with the problems of a few?"

To learn more about the dangers of managing and leading by exception and to improve your own leadership decision-making, pick up the phone and call Robin Bichy at 703.999.5676.

Most of the organizations that we deal with are supremely concerned about safety—as they should be. Nuclear power stations, bulk waste storage, rail lines, rail car manufacturers, shipyards—it’s all risky business. It should be of no surprise, then, that many of these organizations are remarkably skilled at marketing and communicating safety messages.

Let’s take a moment, though, and learn from exception. One leader at a fairly large organization mandated an ethics or value message be formally communicated once a week in lieu of the daily safety message. Over a glass of wine, we asked about this executive decision. He answered our question of why with a question of his own: “Can you have a culture of safety without a culture of strong ethics?” He extended his logic, “If an organization lacked trust, exhibited low levels of moral courage, wasn’t very forthcoming or transparent, and was generally viewed as unfair, could that organization possibly build a strong safety culture?” Interestingly, for years nuclear safety has been guided by the principle that trust permeates the organization, but how often have we reflected on the centrality or criticality of this? I suspect not much. After some soul searching of our own and focused coaching sessions focused on exactly this topic, we’ve reached our own conclusion. Namely, we believe strong ethics is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a solid safety program/culture. Put differently, without a bedrock of integrity or character to anchor upon, safety initiatives are doomed to fail.

What does this mean to you—the senior executive, the emerging leader? It means, perhaps, that the best way to influence safety is, first and foremost, by influencing ethics and character building. This one executive in the example shared above offers some immediate counsel: during any given week, devote one message to ethics rather than safety. Trust us, it will solidify a safety culture; it won’t hurt it.

To learn more about how ELP fuses ethics training with safety programs to build a comprehensive and revolutionary culture, reach out to Robin at