The traditional consensus for getting to the top — especially in a large organisation — is to work really, really hard.
And that usually manifests as working really, really long hours.
Well, those days might be over if the advice of BHP’s new CEO Andrew MacKenzie is anything to go by.
He told Qantas’ inflight magazine, in comments picked up by the ABC’s business reporter Andrew Robertson, that the more senior he’s become in business, the more important it is that he “works fewer hours.”
He said a “well rested Andrew” can achieve considerably more in four hours than an exhausted Andrew can in eight.
He added that he gets to work late by modern standards, and leaves the office early — especially if he knows he’ll be working in the evenings. He’ll sleep in an extra hour in the morning if he’s tired.
“You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to be a CEO, but you do need to be sharp,” he’s quoted as saying.
He believes overwork can not only diminish returns for a business, but also be a “scorpion’s tail” that can ultimately sting productivity.
I think he’s on to something, especially when it comes to management and intentionally keeping the number of hours worked per day down. I only hope it’s a mantra he applies to all his staff, especially now that BHP has an ambitious target of being 50% female by the year 2025.
The best boss I ever worked for didn’t work long hours. She was never the last to leave the office and rarely sent emails after hours. She managed her time perfectly.
But she did unashamedly delegate, and delegate very well, empowering her team to get the job done. She also communicated constantly with staff, and spent most of her day simply talking. Working with this leader in an open plan office at the time, the mysteries of what a “leader” actually does day-to-day quickly disappeared for those of us in the room.
Some of these time management tricks may have been learnt by managing kids and a big career — where you have no choice but to make the most of every single minute you have available to you, and where delegating and working between multiple priorities simply become second nature.
Recently, when I spoke to a group of women in environment about some of the key lessons I’ve learnt interviewing more than a thousand women over the years for Women’s Agenda, I said there was almost always one thing that underpinned every lesson they shared.
Sure, great female leaders have sponsors and mentors and networks, and an ability to seize the right kind of opportunities.
But underpinning all of it is TIME. They make the time to work with mentors and sponsors, and the time to catch up with the news and other publication’s affecting their industries. They have time to read, learn and to ask questions. They have time to think.
More importantly, they have time to manage their own wellbeing: to keep themselves physically fit, constantly active and mentally strong.
They have time, because they’ve figured out how to not get stuck in the details. They know how to really manage — to delegate, and to communicate effectively. They know their time is more valuable and precious than anything else, so they don’t whittle it away on pointless tasks and activities.
They are true masters of their time.
They know when to say yes. But more importantly, when to say no.
Indeed, the ‘saying no’ piece has been one of the key things I’ve picked up over the past year. I know when I’ve successfully done it — because my weeks are clear to focus on the deep work that matter, and to make time for sleep, family and to stay physically fit. I know when I’ve failed, because my weeks are cluttered on tasks and activities that serve no purpose to my business. I end up overworked, exhausted, cranky and inactive.
Work less hours? I’m in. As are some of the most successful women in business.
And apparently also, so are some men.