11/29/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Leaders and Purposeful Time

Years ago Warren Bennis told me a story me about his search for a secret ingredient in successfully leading a great symphony orchestra. After many interviews and observations a player told him about one world famous conductor, "We put up with many of his quirky behaviors, but he never wastes our time." Bennis, America's premier leadership authority, had found his secret ingredient: leaders must always give purpose to time, their own and the others they work with.

Leaders always struggle with time allocation issues ranging from purpose management to providing key people proper attention. And the urgent always drives out the significant. Problems with fast burning fuses take priority and such fuses always seem to be lit at the worst times.

How do the best leaders cope with this task of matching time and purpose? I have assembled over 140 case studies of the best leadership examples. Many of these I have interviewed and observed in action.

Based on my research and experience here are a few clear guidelines on how to save time and bend it to your purpose:

· Avoid all those who live by dogma and especially those who would be charismatic enchanters. Their minds are not open and only want to convince others about their beliefs.
· Spend little time in the presence of "know nothings," if at all possible.
· Stay clear of most massive meetings with huge screens in large hotel ballrooms and convention centers (the air is bad and the learning fungible). The exception: when honoring someone you care about or you are being honored. For example: a large gathering to honor Nelson Mandela at Davos was worth it.
· Be cautious of luxurious watering holes where golf is the major attraction, unless your purpose is rejuvenation.
· Attend no meetings where well-planned pre- and post- work are not part of the experience. Good learning requires decent effort, preparation, and follow up.
· Say no to all dealings with the smug, hubristic, and glamorous. This needs little comment, but many of us get enchanted by celebrity.

On the positive side:
· Seek out those who can teach you and broaden or challenge your points of view.
· Work with diverse teams engaging in action learning, solving real problems.
· Find and treasure true mentors who will bestir you and care about your development.
· Spend time alone in reflection and pay attention to your dreams, the powerful movies of your unconscious. There is much to learn there.
· Undertake creative work that may result in marvelous failure (learn from it, especially the virtues of humility).
· Create a learning culture wherever you are, lead it and live it.

By adopting such simple guidelines that reduces noise and waste in your life and work and by expanding your purposeful time you will live and learn well and attract better people into your life. This is especially critical for the current U.S. president who is asked to be everywhere and to satisfy everyone. Picking his places and those he spends time with will determine how he thinks and how he performs. As good followers we can help by not expecting the impossible.