What Do Leaders Do All Day?
One of our On Leadership panelists who studies and teaches leadership mentioned to me recently that, in his experience, people have an enduring curiosity about what CEOs presidents and other leaders actually do all day. Indeed, when I see a picture of the Oval Office I always wonder how the president gets any work done without a computer on his desk.
Whether this curiosity is about bringing the famous and powerful down to our level by imagining how they handle their e-mails or a desire to know what to expect if we ever become a leader ourselves, here are four ways to learn about the leader's daily grind.
1. A Fly on Obama's Wall
This week, Washington Post reporter Eli Saslow offered readers a detailed look at Obama's everyday life as a leader, explaining how White State staff, close aides and department heads map out the president's priorities before he even arrives at work. "His time is the most valuable commodity in the White House, and it's guarded like a precious jewel," writes Saslow. The president's scheduler, Alyssa Mastromonaco, told Saslow she organizes "desk time" for the president between his meetings, so he can make calls, study briefing documents or read letters from regular folks. Every morning Obama staffers select 10 letters from the estimated 40,000 that arrive at the White House each day -- a fact that makes you wonder how the letter-openers manage their own time.
2. The Twittering CEO
Of course Twitter, the online microblogging utility, gives average folks a whole new window into the lives of those run the world. Last fall, BusinessWeek created a "Twitter Rolodex" of corporate leaders who regularly post their whereabouts, thoughts and activities on Twitter. Disappointingly, nearly all the 18 executives profiles run tech-related companies, such as Digg's Kevin Rose, Technorati's David Sifry and, of course, Twitter's Jack Dorsey: These are the people we expect to Twitter. Perhaps the most interesting CEO Twitterer, then, is Michael Hyatt, president and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. Hyatt's tweets give readers (or, in Twitter-speak, "followers") quick glimpses into his everyday life as an executive. At 7 AM this morning, for example, Hyatt wrote: "I'm up and at 'em, heading into the office early. Mornings are my favorite, most productive, time."
3. The Executive Morning
Yahoo! blogger and career coach Jim Citrin was also curious about how CEOs get their days started, and he informally polled 20 CEOs and top executives on their morning routines. He organizes the response into seven unsurprising categories ("exercise every morning," "make family time"), but the best parts of the article are the snap-shots he includes from individual executives, like Padmasree Warrior, then-chief technology officer for Motorola (and now CTO at Cisco), "who rises at 4:30 a.m., spends an hour on email, reads most of the news online, and then does an hour of either cardio or resistance training each morning," allowing her to get her son ready for school and dropped off before going to work at 8 or 8:30 am.
In case that makes you exhausted just reading about it, Citrin also includes some thoughts from Steve Murphy, CEO of publishing company Rodale, who told him: "A line in a William Blake poem inspired me to think differently about my day: 'Think in the morning, act in the noon, read in the evening, and sleep at night.' This has made a huge difference in my life. Now, I take out a yellow pad every morning and write my thoughts for the day, which allows me to be much more strategic and proactive than reactive."
4. An Academic Classic
Those who want a more analytical, research-based way of thinking about how leaders use their time can probably start with management professor Henry Mintzberg's 1973 classic, The Nature of Managerial Work (the original edition is still for sale, complete with snazzy, 70s-era jacket design). According to a 2003 journal article, Mintzberg's research -- in which he logged and analyzed the actions of managers through their day -- overturned then existing theories that management was all about commanding-and-controlling, because, as he discovered, managers and leaders spent time instead embodying interpersonal, informational, and decision-making roles.
If you're still curious about what professionals do all day, check out Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day? Even better, consider writing an updated version of that book, in which you explain to children not what the blacksmith, baker and farmer do (as Scarry did) but rather what the board chair, chief operations officer, or senior vice president do all day. It seems like most of us haven't yet figured it out.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: gnpszul | March 9, 2009 7:56 AM
Posted by: bhinmd | March 6, 2009 4:39 PM
Posted by: AnonPoster | March 6, 2009 3:13 PM
Posted by: kilgore_nobiz | March 6, 2009 2:37 PM
Posted by: hlabadie | March 6, 2009 1:35 PM
Posted by: akchild | March 6, 2009 1:05 PM
Posted by: hz9604 | March 6, 2009 11:12 AM
Posted by: wwwBarbaraFalconerNewhallcom | March 5, 2009 5:53 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.