A Comment on Leader Routines

By | June 25, 2020

[June 25, 2020]  Leader routines can be a handy way to strengthen job efficiency and effectiveness.  We all know that.  Today, I will comment on leader routines and how they differ from the average person.

Routines provide structure, predictability, and stability.  It reduces the chaos in our lives and is also true for leaders.  The problem with leaders, however, is that their daily life is hard to set into a standardized schedule.  By definition, leaders are solving problems, both predictables, and unknown unpredictables.  Leaders look to the future and attempt to predict what comes next.  This outward focus is not as easy as one might first think.

Senior leader schedules are even less predictable and more volatile, complex, and uncertain that those of a junior leader.  While many of us, including junior leaders, often see a routine that spans a day or a week, a senior leader routine can cover up to a year or more.  It is not always easy to create such long-range routines, but they are possible and highly practical.

Generally speaking, we can categorize leader routines into three parts:

  1. Administrative: Letter writing, meetings, emails, reading, studying, exercise, phone calls, resourcing, and personal time to contemplate, review, and create a vision, reinforce values, etc. This is where intelligence and conscientiousness come into play.
  2. Traveling and Connecting: Going to see – with their own eyes – what is happening in their organization, talking to employees, and listening to what’s going on. I call it kicking the tires  It’s also called management by walking around.
  3. In the Fight: Most leadership is mundane.  I call this being in the fight because it’s the day to day effort to make things work better and more efficiently.  It means being around to ensure the mission is being accomplished and the workers are properly cared for.

The more senior a leader, the more routines are scheduled weekly and monthly.  Some scheduled items will be up to annually or more (if there is a long-range plan).  These routines consist of scheduling what is the best fit for the organization.  It requires regular review and adjustment to the schedule and enough flexibility to make quick and decisive changes.

Leader routines can also give that individual more time to think, study, and formulate future plans.  Time is one resource that is always in short supply.  Routines will help but are not the panacea that guarantees success.

And finally, a good routine will ensure the leader has adequate family and friend time as well as space for neighbors and community.  Routines will also include at least two weeks off per year for a vacation away from work.  Time off works for high achievers who want to balance their lives.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

17 thoughts on “A Comment on Leader Routines

  1. Greg Heyman

    Very interesting article and a little more insights into senior leadership and how it differs from junior and less experienced leaders. Good point about how routines can be spread out over a longer period of time and the value it still has. Thanks, Gen. Satterfield.

    1. Maureen S. Sullivan

      Good point and I too liked the article. Gave me some ideas about how to do better with my family.

  2. Ronny Fisher

    Like my friends here at work, we never heard of routines that stretch out beyond a day or week …. imagine a routine that goes out to a month or year! Thanks for opening my eyes to the value of routines for senior leaders also. Good job, BTW, on “categories” of routines. I never saw this before and it makes sense.

  3. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    Here’s a suggestion. Talk to high performing peers, or better yet, shadow them. What are their routines? If you can, ask them what their most important routines are — most people know their routines, but assume that these routines are implicit.

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      Good point, Otto. Good to hear from you. People want to talk about their routines. Just ask them.

    2. ARay Pittman

      Better yet, tolerate imperfection in your routines and get feedback, regularly.

  4. Benny

    Made me think. That is why I always start my morning off with this website (part of my daily routine). Thanks Gen. Satterfield.

    1. Wendy Holmes

      Good article in Forbes. Thanks for the link. But note that these are DAILY routines and the point of Gen. Satterfield is that senior leaders (and I can infer to the rest of us) that some routines are weekly or longer. These are the ones overlooked, often, and deserve to not be forgotten about.

    2. Linux Man

      Good point, Stacey and I too enjoyed the article after following the link.

  5. Valkerie

    Very interesting take on routines. I never gave senior leader routines much thought, especially that a routine might be scheduled out over as much as a year. ?

  6. Danny Burkholder

    Excellent article on routines. These saved my life. I now get up at 5am, exercise, eat a solid breakfast, and start work. After returning home, I spend at least two hours in family time, then study for my on-line Master’s Degree, stretch out my body, kiss the wife and go to bed for a full 7 hours. I’m rested and ready to go.

    1. Gil Johnson

      Good for you Danny and this is a great example of how to do it ‘right.’ But what do you do on weekends too? These are just as important. Do you, for example, still get up at 5 AM, exercise, and eat a solid breakfast? It matters to have a routine all the time, if possible.

    2. Eric Coda

      I agree Danny. I will also add that we leaders should self-Assess: What are your routines? Assess where you’re at: Chronicle your own routines. Where do you spend your time, what do you focus on? These habits define your effectiveness as a leader. The routines of good leaders tend to be social events, undergirded by personal habit. Closely scrutinize your routines in your one-on-one meetings, your team meetings, and your meetings with clients. These routines will reveal opportunities for you to get better.

      1. Lynn Pitts

        Excellent point, Eric. We should do more than just set up routines without much thought but contemplate if they are the right ones.

  7. Army Captain

    I agree that routines help us reduce chaos in our lives but they don’t help us overcome the unpredictable. So, if we are really smart (not book smart but street smart), we know to routinize the every day stuff so we don’t have to exude as much energy and thus save our mental best for the hard problems that crop up.

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