During my career as a woman leader, I launched the Circle of Leading Women in France, which brings together women working in Large Corporates with P&L responsibilities to help their promotion to the Executive Committee. In our regular meetings and dinners, we share views and opinions regarding different themes, such as personal positioning, networking and career growth.
During our last meeting we discussed the theme of the “Time of the Leader”. We tried to answer questions such as: are leaders the ones who “own” the Time of the company they lead? Or are they rather inevitably bound to the company’s ever-changing needs and urgencies, trying to keep up with a calendar that must be planned one year in advance, without any time to breath or to reflect and take some distance?
Even if at present the focus on COVID seems to have dwindled, making it disappear from our TV screens and therefore from our lives, the rhythm of our business has not changed or got back to the way it used to be. While we see airports filling up again (and struggling to get back to the previous pace), there is no more space for the time to travel in our calendars. The leader becomes at all times an actor who is always on stage, thanks to a screen or smartphone, without a moment to do anything else, from just looking at the sky to exchanging a word with their colleagues.
There are different kinds of time – strategic, operational, but also political or human – and every leader must be able to handle these various “times” and master them. Consequently, the true challenge is to understand how leaders can integrate those dimensions and make them communicate, finding the right balance and prioritising in the best way, both for themselves and for the company.
But which are the “times to own” and which are the times to delegate to teams? When to intervene? When to get help? In this context, it is important to learn how to master our time and make it an ally. There are many different ways to conceive time as leaders. In a recent articleby Bain & Company, for example, executive time was divided into two categories: running the business (operations) and changing the business (innovation). This is, however, only one of the many categorisations out there, and the most important thing is to learn how to find your own balance.
Bearing all this in mind, I think there are some points we should reflect on:
• Mastering time
As leaders, we need to learn how to master time. This means learning how to prioritise, divide, and choose what our time should be devoted to – from strategy, which should be “owned” by the leader and its Board, to times of crises, or again the time of operational transformations and recurring business. When it comes to everyday work, it is also a matter of daily schedules and calendars which are constantly fully booked and in perpetual movement due to emerging urgent matters. In this scenario, it is fundamental to work as a team, creating a team structure that
is built on “couples”, such as CEO-deputy CEO, CEO-CFO, and CEO-CHO.
• Playing with various “times”
The last few years and changes in society have had major impacts on the financial services sector, bringing also new moments that we, as leaders, need to master. For example, we have observed that the time of politics has been increasingly affecting the financial sector. Additionally, the time needed for reporting activities can sometimes slow down transformation efforts and investments. It is important to point out that there is also a mismatch between the speed of the business sector and the length of human times, which have their own slower pace.
• Can time become an ally?
The last point to reflect on is the concept of time in relation to our industry: is time the ally of the Leader (in their financial communication calendar, for example) or their worst enemy (in the case of transformation)? For instance, considering our ever-changing business scenario – especially in the insurance and financial services industries – it is crucial to think and work ahead of the competition, acting as leaders and not as followers, in order to streamline the innovation processes in both the company and the industry, in line with the sector’s digital transformations.
Starting from these reflections, we shared our insights and points of view. I replicated the same format in Italy with a number of Leading businesswomen: we discussed very similar questions, placing an added focus on the human relationship topic.