Busyness versus Leadership

You know what, I am SO over the word “busy” and it leads me to some very relevant questions:

  • Are we too busy to be kind?
  • Are we too busy to be courageous?
  • Are we too busy to be a good human and leader?
  • Are we too busy to be respectful and kind to those around us?

A few months ago I am racing through security at Brisbane Airport to fly interstate to deliver a keynote where taking out my laptop and placing my bags in the trays when I stopped and asked the security guard how he was going. He glared at me and replied, “I have been working for 6 days straight and not one person has asked me how I am going.” I said “really, that can’t be right. Well thank you so much.” He smiled and said thank you too!

A few weeks ago, I called a dear friend to see how she was going. She didn’t answer and instead sent me a text, saying to email her as she was too “busy” to call me back.

WTF, right?

I didn’t email her, because I didn’t appreciate her response. It’s important to make real time for your friends; to show them kindness and not let “busy” get in the way. Now, I’m not saying I’m perfect in this area. I have a lot going on, as many of us do. I regularly have people say to me that I seem busy as I am doing so much, and I always smile.

My response is always this: “It may look like I’m too busy, but actually, I just work hard. I make sure I dedicate my energy and time to my passions and other things that are important, since time is finite. This doesn’t mean that you can’t reach out to me when you need me – part of making time for important things means making sure I’m not too busy to be kind and respectful to my friends. I don’t let ‘busy’ get in the way of what really matters.” I also make sure even person I interact with whether it is at Coles, the coffee shop or airport security that I show kindness and respect.

Those who constantly talk about how “busy” they are, adding adjectives in front like “super” or “crazy”, are unintentionally putting a big “I’m too busy for you” sign on their forehead. If your talk of your busyness starts making it sound as if you can’t make time for anything else, you’re making yourself appear unapproachable. Talking too much about how busy you are makes people think you’re too hard to connect with. When I see a busy sign on your forehead, I’m reminded of a John C. Maxwell quote I recently read: “The greatest enemy of good thinking is busyness”.

Going on and on about your busyness doesn’t make for good conversation; it doesn’t go anywhere, and all it does is make the person you’re talking to really bored, and even annoyed. Any time spent with people who project the “I’m too busy for you” message never truly feels whole. Fascinatingly, I’ve found that those who are legitimately “busy” don’t actually announce it all that often. However, they’re also usually too busy to go out of their way to find the time for meaningful connections.


Constantly talking about being so busy means that you’re often doing something called doublespeak. This when you say one thing, but what you really mean is something else entirely.

Here’s what you’re actually saying when you’re acting like, or telling people that you are, just way too busy:

“I’m significant.”

“I’m needed.”

“I’m important… more so than you.”

“I’m using my busyness as an excuse, because I don’t want to do this.”

“I matter.”

“I’m scared of feeling inadequate and missing out.”

“I don’t like feeling guilty about not doing the meaningful things I really want to do.”

Of course, you can’t actually say any of these things out loud to another person. That would just stop the conversation in its tracks, and be really rude. That’s why we turn to “I’m busy!” instead. It’s a convenient excuse that is used all too often because we see being “busy” as being a fantastic character trait.

This is a big part of the work we do is to coach and train leaders and executives to stop the busyness and be truly courageous in their lives and leadership.

Do you often feel overwhelmed and exhausted, even though you haven’t gotten around to doing the things that are really important? Do you use busyness as a crutch to avoid feeling like a failure for not accomplishing the things you should be doing? Here are some ways to start holding yourself accountable and stop hiding behind busyness:

  • Reflect
  • Alter How You Frame And Define Things
  • Be Sure To Stop – You Don’t Always Have To Be Busy
  • JOMO – The Joy Of Missing Out
  • It’s Time To Stop Being Busy And Make Time For What Matters

Don’t be too busy for what really matters. This means your health, wellbeing, family and your passions. We only have one life. I’m over busy, are you?

Like Laura Vanderkam suggests, once you start changing your language around how you spend your time and what activities you’ve undertaken, it becomes clear that how we spend our time is a choice. If you tell someone you don’t have time, imagine saying to them that their request isn’t a priority instead. The thought should make you uncomfortable, and with good reason. We are in control; we make the choice about how we use our time.


Arthur C. Brooks a professor of management practice at the Harvard Business School says that The Subtle Mindset Shift That Could Radically Change the Way You See the World. The Dalai Lama teaches that we are all interconnected and inseparable from one another. Acknowledging that can make us less lonely, more compassionate, and better investigators of the truth. Furthermore, we must be open to, and respectful of, different ideas and views. As the Dalai Lama puts it, “Our basic mind should be very neutral.” This comes from the Nalanda Buddhist tradition, in which, he says, monks are trained always to ask why and to never simply say yes. Not even to a master—not even to His Holiness. As Arthur indicates, all this might sound not just transgressive, but paradoxical: We are happy when we live in our natural state, which is in harmony with each other; this is due to the fact that our individual nature is an illusion; we should teach this for the sake of truth and greater happiness; but we should also question this continually, in a spirit of openness and mutual respect.

Susan Heathfield, a HR and management consultant asks what respect is. It’s the sense of worth or personal value that you attach to someone. Respect is an overall evaluation you give someone based on many factors – what that person is doing with their life, how they treat you and others, whether they are honest or not and if they seem to consistently do good things, large or small, for other people. In short, respect is a positive view that you form of how someone is living their life. On the other hand, self-respect is your view of how you’re living your life. Susan continue by saying that respect is a key requirement for a healthy work environment. It promotes teamwork and increases productivity and efficiencies in the workplace. It lets employees know they are valued for their abilities, qualities, and achievements, and that their role is important to their company’s success.

In conclusion, Susan says, being respected and valued promotes a positive work culture where employees are loyal, fulfilled, and motivated to perform at their best for their company. Those who are not respectful to others are unprofessional and a threat to the health of their company. Susan provides examples of how to show respect in the workplace:

  • Treat people with courtesy, politeness, and kindness.
  • Encourage co-workers to express opinions and ideas.
  • Listen to what others have to say before expressing your viewpoint. Never speak over or interrupt another person. Listen and stop formulating rebuttals and responses in your mind when you need to focus on listening to the other person.
  • Use peoples’ ideas to change or improve work. Let employees know that you used their idea or encourage them to implement it.
  • Never insult, use name-calling, disparage, or belittle people or their ideas.
  • Do not constantly criticise, judge, demean, or patronise a worker. A series of seemingly trivial actions added up over time constitutes bullying.
  • Be aware of your body language, tone of voice, and your demeanour and expression in all of your interactions at work. People hear what you’re really saying in addition to listening to your words.
  • Improve your ability to interact with co-workers and supervisors based on the awareness you’ve gained dealing with people and your emotional intelligence. This will help you to relate with empathy and better understand those with whom you work.
  • Treat employees fairly and equally. Treating people differently can constitute harassment, discrimination, or a hostile work environment.
  • Include all co-workers in meetings, discussions, training, and events. While not every person can participate in every activity, do not marginalize, exclude or leave out any one person. Provide an equal opportunity for employees to participate in committees, task forces, or continuous improvement teams. Solicit volunteers and try to involve everyone.
  • Offer praise more frequently. Encourage praise and recognition among employees, as well as from supervisors.

Jacqueline Whitmore, author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach says that respect is something not automatically given. It must be earned. When you’re in a leadership position, it is imperative that the people with whom you work respect you. They might respect your work habits, your intelligence, or your ability to close a deal. Yet, there’s more to respect than that. If you can earn their respect as a person, then you’ve really won the game.

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I have put together these laws which include respect (when I say ‘laws’, I mean more like guidelines) for any leader who is looking for some direction – however, these are also great for making the most of life in general and also building in respect as a key part of your leadership. Here are my 7 Laws of Leadership:

  • Be brave. Be kind.
  • Follow your instincts, but don’t discount others’ opinions
  • Be respectful, always
  • Be empowering
  • Be the model of what you expect from others
  • Be willing to do what is right, even when others don’t agree
  • Never stop learning

I go by these guidelines every day, and I hope they help inspire you to take the next step and ramp up your leadership. These laws also apply to life in general – who doesn’t want to be the best they can be, whether they’re a leader or not? Decide what you can do to show and earn respect.

Learn more about how we can support and help your leadership and culture to greatness at https://leadershiphq.com.au/

By Sonia McDonald – CEO of LeadershipHQ and the Outstanding Leadership Awards, Leadership Coach, Global Keynote Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mum And Award Winning Author.