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Leadership in a Changed World: Managing Performance

In the months to com, many organisations will be navigating a rapidly changing landscape, but with change comes the potential for new and exciting opportunities.

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This is number five in a series of six articles where we explore Leadership in a Changed World, in this article we cover:

  • Are we working productively and efficiently?
  • Adjusting behaviours to boost productivity
  • The difference between important and urgent
  • Asking what, why and how?
  • Time management methods
  • Hofstadter's Law
  • Time boxing
  • Effective coaching
  • Implementing effective coaching techniques
  • Coaching continuous development

Throughout this article we expand on how you can create and manage a high-performance environment through productivity methods and effective coaching techniques.

The foundation upon which our high-performance environment is built must be strong and our individual team members are the building blocks to success. To create a high-performance environment, we need to ensure our teams are sufficiently equipped to perform - equipped with knowledge, skills, behaviours and a positive forward-thinking mindset.

If an individual is struggling to perform, we need to ask ourselves as leaders, how can we identify the root of the problem and support them to get back on track?

With all the changes that we have experienced so far, managing and driving performance within teams has changed. In our previous article Leadership in a Changed World - Performance we identified some of the ways we can support individual performance;

  • Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Timed) objectives on an individual team member basis.
  • Measuring performance in a mutually agreed and understood way.
  • A routine schedule of one-to-one’s to inspect what we expect.
  • Balance wellbeing and performance using regular check-ins to find out how team members are feeling and where they may need support.
  • Identify individual motivators for team members and manage in a way that is tailored to individual’s requirements.

“When you say YES to others, make sure you are not saying NO to yourself.”

Paulo Coelho

Adjusting behaviours to boost productivity

Each team member’s attention is ultimately their most precious resource. Without the discipline to focus their attention in the right direction with clarity and confidence, their productivity will always be a fraction of what it could be. 

Applying balanced and appropriate ruthlessness is the key to focusing each individual on the end result, we want them to be selective and deliberate with their actions.

  • Focus on the tasks that will have the biggest impact.
  • Say no, or at least not now.
  • Prioritise important tasks.
  • Protect your time.
  • Protect your attention.
  • Don’t take on more than you can handle well.
  • Minimise interruptions and distractions.

How we approach a task is just as important as how we work through a task. With thorough preparation we can get to work efficiently and progress through tasks quickly and attentively.

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The difference between important and urgent

Dwight D. Eisenhower [34th president of the United States from 1953 to 1961] once said:

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

Urgent tasks require your immediate attention: phone calls, meetings, tasks with tight deadlines, and other issues that require you to take action quickly.

Important tasks help advance long-term goals and complete serious projects. They are tasks that actually push the needle.

We have a tendency to put important tasks aside and deal with the urgent tasks that provide a rapid sense of accomplishment.

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Asking what, why and how?

The ability to analyse a task and its purpose helps us to not only prioritise effectively but also seek efficient ways to complete the task

  • What am I trying to achieve?
  • What value does this bring?
  • Has someone else solved this problem before?
  • Is there a better method I could use? What is the quickest way I can get this item off my list and move on?
  • Think of each component that is involved in the process and allocate time for it to be completed.
  • Examine the parts of any task and figure out step-by-step what you need to do to get it done.

Time management methods

Sharing tried and tested task management methods with your team is a great way to help them become more productive and drive their performance, particularly if they are working remotely.

Implementing time management methods prevents you from overloading your day with an impractical or impossible list of things to do. Getting to the end of the day and seeing just how much you didn’t achieve can have a negative effect on your morale and your confidence.


Hofstadter’s Law

Understanding how much time a task will take is fundamental to effective time management, but it is not as easy as it sounds. Douglas Hofstadter, a cognitive scientist and author, introduced in his 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, the observation

Hofstadter’s Law

Meaning that things always take longer than you expect them to, even when you try to account for things taking longer than you expect them to.

This was also the basis for the cognitive bias known as The Planning Fallacy, first proposed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, also in 1979. They defined this phenomenon as

Hofstadter’s Law

The best method for limiting the effects of The Planning Fallacy or Hofstadter’s Law is to break the tasks down in to smaller time chunks. Reviewing to see if you are as far ahead as you thought you would be at the end of each chunk.

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Time boxing

Time boxing is the process of breaking the hours in your day down into time blocks. These can be 15-minute intervals, half hourly intervals, two-hour intervals
or whatever is appropriate for your role and the tasks that you need to complete.

 Next you will review your entire task list, work out which tasks are going to have the biggest impact and allocate them to a time box.

Be sure to give your tasks a little buffer space between them for breaks, over runs and unforeseen interruptions, you need to be agile and flexible for when unexpected events or tasks arrive.

This is a really useful tool to help individuals who have problems managing a workload, staying on schedule or for those who have a tendency to over engineer work. Time boxing is extremely effective when it is based upon clear instructions and set expectations for the tasks that need to be completed but it is important for the team member using the time boxing method to be involved in setting the deadline and associated time allowance for each task.

This is just one example of an effective time management method and while this may work for some or even most of your team, everyone is different. Focus more on encouraging individuals to use methods like this to organise their time but to find a method that works best for them. Go one step further and schedule a team review where everyone shares the method that works for them.

Effective coaching

The continuous development of your people via coaching is particularly important in the new remote and hybrid work environments that we are operating in.

The world of coaching is complex and multifaceted. On one hand it is about helping the individual come to their own conclusion, using a specific framework of questioning to define effective performance in their role. Never telling them what to do, but instead asking them what, how, should, or could they do in certain scenarios.

On the other hand, it is helping people better understand the consequences of their actions and helping them to try and see where there might be a disconnect between the promises that they have made and the reality in terms of being able to deliver. The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their potential. 

With effective coaching we want to bring all of these approaches into our leadership and coaching methods so we can maximise professional and personal potential by helping team members to actively seek to learn rather than simply teaching them. 

These words can be found in wood block books that are almost 1,100 years old written by Xunzi (Xun Kuang) a Confucian philosopher who lived in the third century B.C.E.

Over a thousand years later and research shows this philosophy still to be true. In a study conducted by the University of Chicago the percentage recall of information given was measured over 3 weeks and 3 months. 2

The research showed that the long-term recall performance greatly increased when individuals were told, shown and allowed to experience the information compared to simply being told, or being told and shown.

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Implementing effective coaching techniques

Coaching can be a planned activity, you can set aside specific time in your day to get together with your team member and coach on a particular topic, but coaching is also highly effective if it is responsive and in the moment as individuals face challenges or blockers in their daily tasks.

In our changed world, where we are operating remotely or in a hybrid environment it can be challenging to provide responsive coaching in the moment when it is needed but there are ways to ensure that virtual coaching or remote coaching is as effective as it could be.

  • Make yourself available.
  • Encourage your team to come to you or to keep a list of difficulties, challenges, questions and concerns that can be addressed in scheduled one-to-one sessions.
  • Foster psychological safety to reassure team members that they’re not going to be humiliated or rejected if they come to you with problems or issues.
  • Make sure that there is always a follow-up from topics raised.
  • Give team members your full focus, a virtual coaching conversation should be a special kind of interaction.
  • Leave time between the end of your coaching conversations and moving on to the next event on your calendar to give you both space to digest what was discussed and reflect on the conversation.
  • Make sure that you are in a coaching mode all of the time so you can spot subtle cues to coach.
  • Utilise technology, namely video calls to allow the observation of body language from your mentee and project openness in your posture on these.
  • Plan a positive focus discussion for a future session.

Accountability strongly underpins coaching for performance. Ultimately there has to be a desire or a drive to succeed, you can’t coach someone who doesn’t want to change. Building awareness of that responsibility is the essence of good coaching. It is the individuals own mindset shift that we’re looking to achieve through coaching so they can approach issues, challenges and problems as well as their ongoing development in a proactive way.

leadership in a changed world

Key take away advice for effective coaching

  • Lead from the front. Demonstrate that you don’t have all the answers, but you are taking steps to actively find them. This behaviour will breed the same behaviour in your team members.
  • Share where you are going to find answers, encourage team members to share their own resources.
  • Schedule development time within a task or project, anticipate gaps in knowledge or skills and plan learning time into the task.
  • Encourage team members to be accountable for their development, continually seeking opportunities to expand their knowledge.
  • Be present, aware and engaged, always looking for opportunities to provide coaching.


  • International Coach Federation [Internet] https://coachfederation. org/
  • APPLIED COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY Appl. Cognit. Psychol. 14: 215-235 (2000) Untangling the Benefits of Multiple Study Opportunities and Repeated Testing for Cued Recall_WILLIAM L. CULL_Loyola University of Chicago, USA

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