corner office-Too Busy to Lead-August 2011

corner office-Too Busy to Lead-August 2011

Stop the “Insanity Syndrome” by delegating and holding employees accountable.

As the old saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I call it the “Insanity Syndrome” when CEOs find themselves too busy to lead.

To find out if you are suffering from Insanity Syndrome, take this quiz:

1) Do you wish people in your organization were more responsible, capable, and accountable?

2) Do you think that if you don’t do everything (or at least get involved on some level with everything), nothing will get done right?

3) Do you suspect that employees slack off on quality because they know you’ll take care of customer issues?

4) Do you wish you could replace one or more of your key managers, but don’t have the guts or time to go through the firing and rehiring process?

5) Do you sacrifice too much of your leisure time because you have to fix problems created by others?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, you are caught up in an Insanity Syndrome. Keep on reading for tips on how to stop it. However, if your answers were “no,” go to the nearest mirror, look at yourself honestly, and retake the quiz.


A Personal Confession

In the spirit of transparency, I confess that I often find myself too busy to train, delegate, hold accountable, or communicate. In the pressure to quickly satisfy a client’s need, I often think, “Well, it’s just easier if I do it myself,” instead of explaining to someone else what needs to be done. I think it’s in the blood of CEOs to get things done—that’s how we ended up in the corner office. We are “take charge” type of people that others rely on to make sure things get done, right?

But I knew my Insanity Syndrome was getting out of control when an associate of mine recently sent me a draft document with an e-mail note that said, “Here’s my rough draft, but it still needs some work. However, I know you will make it perfect.” So, what did I do? Rather than sending it back to my associate for him to get it right, I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. editing the document.

However, over the years I have learned some effective ways to stop the Insanity Syndrome. (I just need to discipline myself to use them consistently.) To stop being too busy to lead, you must: 

• delegate—train and coach instead of doing it yourself;

• hold people accountable to expectations; and

• make needed staff changes.



There’s an old story about a husband and wife doing the dishes together. The wife complains that the husband never does the dishes unless she nags him, but when he does, she criticizes the quality of his work. So the husband decides to drop and break a few pieces of her most cherished china, just so she’ll never ask for his help again. It’s the same with employees—if you do everything yourself, sooner or later they figure out that they don’t have to do a good job because you’ll redo it or handle it yourself. 

The chief executive’s main responsibility is to lead, not to do. To be an effective leader, the CEO should be focused on making decisions about bigger issues, such as vision and strategy, overall performance, corporate values, customer relationships, and developing potential leaders. If your tasks are micro instead of macro, you are looking downward instead of outward. Figure out what you are doing that other people can do just as well or better, and delegate those items so you’re working on more important tasks. If people have the capability but need training and coaching, take the time to teach and coach them. In the long run, your organization will be better off. Cultivating those values is the mark of a true leader and will make your organization more sustainable.


Instill Accountability

Years ago, my assistant at the time would type a letter for me, then I would edit it with lots of red ink corrections and hand it back to her for another round of editing before we’d finally arrive at a final product. Mostly my edits were correcting misspelled words and punctuation, and it was extremely frustrating for me. Finally, I recognized this Insanity Syndrome must end, so I handed a letter back to her without any red ink. “There are some misspelled words and incorrect punctuation in this letter,” I said. “If you can’t give it to me correct the first time, I am going to have another one of our administrative staff redo it and deduct her time from your pay.” And I never received a letter from her again with misspelled words or incorrect punctuation.

It wasn’t unreasonable to expect my assistant to do her best job the first time, and it’s not unreasonable to hold your employees accountable to defined expectations. Ask the tough questions like, “Why is there always enough time to do it over, but not enough time to do it right the first time?” This takes patience, consistency, and good communication, but if you want to stop the Insanity Syndrome it will be worth it.


Have Guts

The nature of my work gives me opportunities nearly every day to evaluate people in client organizations, and I’m always amazed at the number of people in the wrong jobs. When I question the CEO about it, he or she usually is aware of the problem but admits being either too busy with “bigger” issues or just unable to deal with the conflict. Unfortunately, they don’t see that if they had dealt with the issue earlier, they may have had fewer of the performance problems they’re now trying to fix. Poor financial results are usually a symptom of bigger problems such as staffing, and staffing issues actually cause Insanity Syndrome, as CEOs struggle to address problems that could have been avoided. Too many CEOs aren’t prepared to make changes in staffing, but true leaders have the guts to do it.

Now, answer just one more question: Do you ever wonder “Why me?” when things don’t get done or you’re the last one left to fix a problem? If the answer is “yes,” then recognize that you are the only one who can make the culture changes that will cure Insanity Syndrome. Are you really too busy to lead? Or are you just not a good leader?

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