How Time Zone Thinking Can Change Your Leadership

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by Soren Eilertsen, Ph.D. June 01, 2015.

Businesses are born and businesses die every day. Each stage of the lifecycle, from start-up to maturity or decline, requires a different time commitment and activity focus of you. Although there is a lot to be said for using managerial muscles and significant time executing on today’s issues, your focus on innovation and reinvention today creates results and success for the business in the longer-term. After all, your main job as a leader is to clarify the future and create meaning for followers.

Each of us has an underlying thinking style that creates a preference in approach and behavior. On one end of the continuum, operational CEOs are often referred to as “professional” management since they are brought in to execute on the vision of the company. They thrive on planning and predictability. On the other end, entrepreneurial CEOs are frequently the visionary founders of the business or they have been brought in to transform an organization in decline. They thrive on change and disruption. What is your style?

While these two archetypes of leaders have different strengths and weaknesses, both face a similar problem: how to spend time in activities that naturally fall on the other end of the spectrum. They lack comfort and patience with the work that must take place to be successful when they go outside their preferred thinking style. This eventually becomes a detriment to the business since both thinking styles and associated activities are needed for the organization to thrive long-term. To make up for this deficiency, board of directors most often recruit CEOs that fall in the middle of the spectrum and can span both ends. Yet, most “middle of the road” CEOs have a limited ability to bridge the spectrum and have trouble at both ends of the continuum. Additionally, they will likely default to an underlying preferred thinking style under pressure.

The solution comes from evolved leaders who are aware of their preferred thinking style and with this awareness will work diligently to make up for their own preference in how they assemble their team, how they approach time, and how they engage in activities. For the CEOs and senior executives who need help with this, engaging the Five Business Time Zones model of leadership can bring new understanding of how they spend their time as well as a design for how they ought to spend their time. Creating awareness around this issue is the first step in breaking out of the “comfort zone” and spending more time focused on where the business needs attention.

Soren_Eilertsen Time Zones

With the Five Business Times Zone tool, each level, or zone presents a different view into the business, each hosting different “key activities,” “results horizon” and associated “thinking style.” The five zones are: react, execute, improve, innovate and reinvent. They span two polar-opposite dimensions with implications for both the organization and the individual leader. It is important for leaders to be able to cope with thinking styles that run the gamut from a detailed operational and tactical preference at one end to a “big picture” strategic and possibly disruptive preference at the other extreme. The challenge then becomes effectively managing the time component. When does each zone require cultivation and for how long?
An extended version of this article titled “Time Zone Travel” was originally published in the May 2015 issue of USA Today Magazine. This provides guidance on how make time zone thinking change your leadership.

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About the Author:

Soren Eilertsen, Ph.D., works with business leaders to clarify vision, set strategic focus, and develop leadership muscle. Since founding Kollner Group in 1999, he has shaped the success and strategy of numerous for-profit and non-for-profit businesses in a variety of industries. He teaches business strategy as Adjunct Faculty at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management. For additional information, visit Kollner Group or email Soren.