Busyness is Not a Badge of Honor but an Indicator of Poor Leadership

Jim Collins - An organization is not truly great if it cannot be great without you

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We have an epidemic of over-busyness. It’s an odd paradox that fills us with both pride and frustration.

When things are going well we talk with excitement about how busy we are. When we’re tired or frustrated we complain about how busy we are.

There is a healthy level of busyness which lies along the continuum between lazy and overburdened. However, more and more of us seem to be living in the “red zone” of over-busyness.

“Red Zone” of Over-Busyness

It’s a place of stress, anxiety, and fatigue. It’s a place of perpetual compromise, stealing time from one commitment in an effort to keep another.

But being busy makes us feel good about ourselves. We are in demand, indispensible, people need us. We feel important. So, while we may resent busyness at times, often we aren’t really all that interested in changing.

Plus, we’re so busy we really don’t have time for self-reflection or making changes.

Poor Management

I’m a husband, a father of 3, co-founder & CEO of a company, elder of my church, board member of a nonprofit, blogger, social media aficionado, Little League coach and more. I love to help people and be involved.

For years I thought I was helping my team at work, the people in my church, my family and my community by doing more. But by trying to do too much, I was wearing myself out. And because I was over-committed, I was dropping a lot of balls and not doing anything particularly well.

Instead of helping, I actually became the biggest barrier to the success of my company, my church and my family.

Pride and Fear

My observation is that most busyness is due to pride and fear.

  • We don’t empower others to do what we’re doing because we like being needed.
  • We don’t let others do what we’re doing because we think no one can do it as well as we can.
  • We don’t ask people to do things because we’re afraid they’ll say no.
  • We don’t delegate because we’re afraid other people will screw things up.
  • We don’t want to say no because we’re afraid of disappointing others or ourselves.

Sometimes busyness is also due to ignorance. Until recently, I didn’t realize just how counterproductive my busyness was or know what to do about it. That’s why I’m writing this. Ignorance be gone! :)

Good Leadership

Leadership is accomplishing bigger things with a team than one can do on his or her own.

Busyness is a symptom of trying to do too much ourselves.

Whether you lead a business, church, ministry, family or Little League team, there are always ways to recruit, train/mentor and empower others to do what you’re doing.

Life Is Short

Before you know it, you will be gone from your current position at work, the nonprofit you serve in, your children, and ultimately from this world. As Jim Collins said…

An organization is not truly great if it cannot be great without you.

(Feel free to retweet that)

Instead of asking “What do I… ?” start asking “Who do I… ?”

Lead your way out of over-busyness to the life God intended for you.

That’s where my focus is these days.  I’m still over-committed and falling short in many ways, but I’m headed in the right direction and making progress.

For more on overcoming busyness see the series Things You Don’t have Time Not to Do.

Discuss

  • How are you doing in the battle with busyness?
  • What’s one thing you’re going to take off your plate by recruiting and empowering someone else to do it?

13 Responses to “Busyness is Not a Badge of Honor but an Indicator of Poor Leadership”

  1. Great post, Paul. I fully agree. I have seen how training and delegating things at work have helped tremendously.

  2. This is a good, timely message for both my husband and I who are in bivocational ministry. We’ve dropped the ‘parenting’ ball so much in the past few years & our kids are not the better for it.
    Thanks for the clarity!

    • Hi Jen, I know life can be very busy as a bivocational minister. What comes to mind, though, is that back in the days of the early church every minister was bivocational.

      In some ways, the typical church with its paid staff could actually make it more difficult for ministers to lead and delegate because many church members have the mindset that they don’t need to serve because that’s what they’re paying the staff for. So perhaps the fact that you’re working in the market place just like everyone else in your church may lend itself to a more equitable (and biblical?) distribution of the ministry workload.

      Blessings on your ministry & trying to get a handle on busyness.

  3. wongtochingmak chang Reply July 12, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    oh, great reading! it is really quite correcting and encouraging. thanks a lot for the post.

  4. You really is a one busy man, Paul. But I do agree with you that we have to be open about working with a team and trust other people that they can do what can do alone and we don’t have to pressure much ourselves of doing everything all alone and all at once.

  5. I was under a leader that lived by the creed o, “being under Satan’s yoke” busy; not realizing the whole time he was speaking to his congregation about himself. I think that this is an on time message for those in charge of the flock. I really enjoyed reading and appreciate your keen awareness of this.
    appreciated.

    • Thanks Robert. My observation is that ministers/pastors/priests are some of the busiest people I know. More could be accomplished by empowering others.

  6. Timely post as I enter the Days of Awe (in between Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur).

    Another issue for many of us in ministry is the “my life and work are vocation” thing. While this is true for many — or at least it’s true for me! — it can become a trap-like excuse for working all the time because, after all, it’s my vocation! Never mind that commandment about keeping the Sabbath holy!!

    The battle against unwarranted busy-ness continues. Some days I’m winning, others not. Awareness is the first step and at least I’m there.

    Only one quibble with your fine post, Paul. I think characterizing busyness as “an indicator of poor leadership” is painting with an overly broad and somewhat harsh brush.

    • Hi Meredith, thanks for your comment. You may be right that I’m painting with an overly broad brush. I’m open to the possibility that some busyness may not be due to poor leadership. Can you give some examples?

      • The “busyness” = “poor leadership” link assumes that busyness in one domain/ministry applies to all domains/ministry.

        Example Someone may be very busy (read: involved) with a ministry because it’s new or emerging and needs a lot of structure and monitoring to start. Thus, that minister might look very busy to you and lacking leadership skills.

        Meanwhile, the same minister might be providing what you define as great leadership (e.g., delegating, involving others) in another ministerial domain.

        My point: we/you might only be seeing one frame at a time rather than the whole picture.

        BTW, I agree that much over-involvement (i.e., micromanagement) can be traced to fear and self-esteem issues. To your terrific kicker questions I add: What is driving your felt need to be so busy?

        Make sense? ^5

        • >>Someone may be very busy with a ministry because it’s new or emerging and needs a lot of structure and monitoring to start. Thus, that minister might look very busy to you and lacking leadership skills.

          Just to be clear, I’m not concerned about whether someone looks busy to another person. I hope people will not take this post and use it to judge others but purely for self-assessment and self-improvement.

          You make a good point, though, that when starting something new, it takes time and work to recruit, delegate, train, etc and that can make us very busy until some of the load can be shared with others. In fact, it takes a lot more work initially to delegate & empower others, which is why a lot of people just do things themselves.

          Another similar situation is if a member of the team suddenly leaves or is unable to do their part.

          So, I’m ok with letting ourselves off the hook for busyness as long as part of the reason we’re so busy is because we’re working hard to get unbusy. :)

        • Oh and great question – What is driving your felt need to be so busy?

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