One of the most telling exercises in my Together Leader workshops is when we list “Priority Crushers”—the last-minute events, unpredictable emergencies and other sudden To-Do’s that crush our well-intentioned big goals and priorities.
Inevitably, busy leaders name “other people” as part of the problem: an overly social colleague, a very dramatic employee, or an upset parent or client.
Here are some great ideas for managing “hot people” that I’ve seen Together Leaders use well:
- Set time limits at the onset of the interaction. You can say something like, “I would love to help you. I have another meeting in 15 minutes, but let’s see what we can accomplish together right now. We can always schedule more time later!” This way the person knows up front that you want to help, but you have real boundaries on your time.
- Delay the interaction to a more appropriate time. If you truly don’t have time or you have a feeling the interaction may not be productive, you can request to schedule the meeting at a different time. One way I’ve seen this work is to let the person know that you want to talk to your team to better understand the background of the situation.
- Ask what role you should play in that particular moment. Sometimes, there is no way to rationally solve the problem because the person who has come to you is so emotionally flooded. I’ve seen busy leaders say, “I see you want me to just listen. How about I do that for ten minutes and then we shift gears to see how I can help solve your problem.”
- Find an efficient way to get pre-information. If you are fortunate enough to work with an assistant, you can ask him (single pronoun for ease of writing) to pre-interview the person to understand what the issue is. Have him brief you prior to your own sit-down. If you don’t have administrative blockers, you can tell the person you have to finish up something pressing but will see them in 15 minutes. In the meantime, they can fill out some kind of generic form to describe the situation.
“Hot people” are part of any job. But in mission-driven settings, these interactions can feel so much more personal because of all that is on the line. But that doesn’t mean your job is to give everyone as much of your time as they want. So, let’s be helpful AND set limits!
PS – Being generous AND ruthless with your time