Practicing leadership every 11 minutes

Why Small Interactions Matter (in the GALLUP Management Journal), interviews Douglas Conant, former CEO of the Campbell’s Soup Company about “touchpoints”.

Touchpoints are the small face-to-face encounters that make up our work day.  They appear to be “interruptions” – the unexpected phone call, a reminder, a “bopping in to say Hi!”, or a quick chat in passing.  And these touchpoints happen every 11 minutes on average (not counting when we interrupt ourselves).  That’s a significant part of our workday.

…The real work for leaders is in dealing with all those encounters in a productive way. How effective are you in those minutes with those interruptions, those phone calls, and in those conversations with someone in the hall who’s been meaning to talk to you or with someone you bump into on the plant floor who has a question for you? That’s the real work of leadership. What you make out of all those small everyday encounters defines your impact on your organization and ultimately, your reputation.

The article goes on to recommend how to make those small conversations from interruptions into productive moments.  The touchpoint happens when someone needs something from you – affirmation, direction, guidance, a decision.  How you address those needs, even in a passing conversation, “defines your impact on your organization and ultimately, your reputation.”

Addressing touchpoints is work, and it gets you back to the work you were doing prior to the touchpoint.  It’s important to listen to catch the need, frame it to confirm you understand the purpose of the touchpoint, and advance the discussion with the necessary response or action.  You can turn your interruptions into productive work time, and improve your work team’s effectiveness at the same time.

This article challenges me to skip the exasperated sigh when the phone rings, and to see the interruption as the productive touchpoint that I’d be looking for after 11 minutes anyway.  It’s also a reminder that “leadership isn’t something you have to do all at once, but you have to do it everyday.”  (Peter Hutchinson)  How we move through our daily routine and react to interruptions is important, and each touchpoint can not only be an opportunity to practice leadership, but each may require it.

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