One of the most impactful conversations of my entire professional life, one where a senior colleague literally saved me from committing career hari-kari, lasted just eight minutes.

I was with my fellow leadership team in a strategic planning session with our new CEO and I was hogging the floor, talking too much, and completely unaware of my impact on myself and others in the room.

Cringe.

My colleague saw me, how should I put it, “getting in my own way”, and decided to intervene, despite the fact she only had the morning tea break to do it. In those eight minutes, she engaged in an exceptionally skilled coaching conversation where she gently but directly raised my awareness of my blind spot. As a result of that intervention, I was on my way up and not out the door. (Christine, wherever you are, 15 years later, I remain eternally grateful 🙂 )

One of the biggest complaints I get from leaders is that “there’s just never enough time”.

Too many emails, too many meetings, too many conflicting priorities shouting at us to DO IT NOW! Cue that feeling of never quite being as effective as we’d like, increased stress, a sense of running from one thing to the next, never quite keeping our head above water. In the worst cases, it leads to pure overwhelm.

It’s easy to get caught up in the “not enough time” loop. We can also buy into the paradigm that acts of skilled leadership take lots more time than they actually do.

I’d like to challenge that assumption. After all, my colleague Christine did – and look what she achieved in eight minutes!

Here are five things you can do this week that take less than five minutes and that, done consistently, will make you a better leader:

  1. When you walk in the office in the morning, look people in the eye, smile and say hello. Connect purposefully. This seems so simple, but how often have you encountered a manager who strides through the workplace without acknowledging anyone, head down in task mode? As the boss, YOU set the tone. One receptionist I know said that when the CEO who headed up the large company she worked for, smiled, said hello and called her by her name, as he walked the main reception in the mornings, it made her feel more connected to the company and to her role.
  1. Put down your phone, tune in, and listen deeply to your team member for five minutes. Here is the hard part; do this without giving in to the urge to fix anything, interrupt, and tell them what to do. Instead, practice active listening and use open questions to understand their perspective. Coach them. If in doubt, just shut up and listen. Too many leaders overuse the talking and fixing muscle and underuse the listening and asking open questions muscle.
  1. Write a handwritten note to one of your team members thanking them or praising them specifically for something you noticed they did in the last week or month. Be specific. It doesn’t have to be gushy, but it sure is likely to make them do more of whatever it is that you are commenting on. Shine a light on what you want to see grow. If the card thing is too touchy feely for you, just write an email. That’s a heck of a lot better than noticing and staying schtum.
  1. Read an article on some relevant topic that is big for you at the moment. One client of mine is having to lead his team through a big outsourcing change programme. He’s decided to read one article a week on outsourcing. Twitter, Linkedin, HBR, (and The Leader’s Digest 🙂 ) all have search functions and the articles can usually be digested in less than five minutes. And this article proves why if you’re a leader, you should be reading.
  1. Do one thing that will take you closer to YOUR personal goal – vs reacting to the demands of others or what’s in your inbox. Make a phone call, send an email, go for a walk outside in nature to get some oxygen into your brain – take one small step that will move you proactively towards those important (but not necessarily urgent) goals.

Bonus tip:

Leave work five minutes earlier than you usually do, go home and show or tell your loved ones how much you love them. Life is short. After all, this matters more than whether you make this month’s budget. It might not make you a better leader (although I personally think it will) but it’ll make you a better person.