7 Hints for Working with Busy Leaders

By September 22, 2010Business, Leadership

Busy leaders. You know them. I hesitated to call them “important” people, because frankly I think all of us are equally important, but these are the leaders who have influence in a certain area of expertise and you would love a chance to spend some time with them just to learn from them. Perhaps you need their assistance for a project or you just want to glean from their experience.

The problem is these leaders have limited time to spend beyond what they are currently doing. You already view their time as valuable to you. You want to make the best use of it that you can.

Here are a few pointers to help your interactions with busy leaders:

Work through his or her system – If he or she has an assistant, use that process unless instructed otherwise. If the person prefers email to phone call, respect his or her wishes. If Twitter is their deal…you need to use Twitter.

Carry the burden – Assume responsibility for setting up appointment. Offer to check back, follow up, send a reminder, check back later, etc. Don’t ask them to “call me when you get time”.

Come prepared – Have your thoughts written out in an outline form to keep you on track in your discussion. Prioritize your list with maximum two or three issues to be covered.

Get to the point – Don’t give all the details unless you are asked for them. Most likely this person is a big picture thinker and will not need all of the details to understand your situation. State your questions or issues of concern up front so the leader knows where the conversation is going.

Be punctual – Remember his or her schedule is most likely full already. Don’t waste more of it.

Honor the time – Don’t overstay your welcome. Commit to ending in the time agreed to in advance.

Be appreciative – Follow up by thanking the leader for his or her time.

What suggestions do you have for meeting with busy people?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 36 Comments

  • Dan says:

    I am reminded of the wisdom that Jethro gave to his son-in-law Moses [Exodus 18] when Moses was trying to handle all of the problems of the people by himself. The results were that Moses was worn out, and being ineffective in addressing the people's issues. Jethro encouraged Moses to "find capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes" and form a team that he could partner with to be able to shepherd the people. In following that advice, Moses showed his heart for the people: he did the things that needed to happen so that their needs could be ministered to.
    Most seniors leaders will not be able to connect with their people at levels that their people desire, and we need to be okay with that. What we do need to be aware of is our own responsibility to connect with those whom God has put around us each day. Do we have the courage to do what we expect from others?

  • Dan says:

    A more accurate evaluation of the heart of those leaders is to ask, "How do they connect with those people who are immediately around them?" If they do connect in meaningful relationships that are marked by integrity, humility, honesty, etc. then we ought to take some comfort in that fact knowing that at some level that same spirit ought to flow downward through leadership and spread throughout the company.

  • Dan says:

    That being said, it's been my experience that CEO's and VP's – particularly of multi-site companies – are very busy people who exist at a levels of decision making that many of us don't comprehend. Thus the wisdom of your comments [be focused, brief/succinct] makes sense. Another piece to this that hasn't been mentioned, and which I think is worth mentioning, is that many times people who are in those positions of senior leadership may not have the capacity to care for the many people who are under them. That doesn't mean that they don't care for their people; it simply means that they are not able to [time, emotional ability, etc.] connect with each person in a way that would be meaningful to that person. That doesn't make senior leaders bad people. It's just a reality that comes with the territory.

  • Dan says:

    I am curious to know who the "leaders" are that you have in mind when you generate these thoughts? I am prompted to ask this after I read the various replies because it seems to me that most people immediately think of church pastors. I would encourage readers to broaden their thinking to include CEO's and VP's when they apply your thoughts – and that's not to say that readers haven't, but mentioning it doesn't hurt.

    • ronedmondson says:

      I write primarily to pastor/ministry leaders, but I was being general in my sense of who the leader is…whether inside or outside the church.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  • Ron Williams says:

    Great post Ron. Honestly, I've shared some of Kelly's frustrations at times, but when I'm able to step back and think about it, my frustration comes from my own burden in that moment and my selfish belief that I'm just as busy. (Kelly, I'm not saying that's the crux of your post, simply my issue and why your words did resonate with me).This is true though, I'm as busy of the busiest leaders out there, it just looks a little different in my life. However, if I'm the one desiring the other person's time, it's incumbent upon me to understand how to gain access to them, and honor that. Time is so valuable, and the one thing we can't ever control; we simply learn to work within its boundaries. Some leaders, because of the areas they influence, have demands on their time that they could never manage without help. So let’s be good stewards of our time and theirs, live within the boundaries, and help each other out.

  • Another great Post, Ron. I really appreciated and enjoyed the dialog it generated as well. If I had one item to add it would be to use what you gain (assuming you find something of benefit in the dialog) and help the leader in some fashion. Frankly, I am sure we've all been on both sides of this equation – the one seeking the time and the one that is (too) busy. As such, we can all benefit from both sides. So if you're getting the time with that busy manager, make the best of it and provide the support back. You will appreciate it when you are on the other end.

    Thanks for sharing Ron.
    Twitter: BLichtenwalner

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael Hyatt, Tara Kachaturoff, Ron Edmondson, Ron Edmondson, El LaGrew and others. El LaGrew said: RT @RonEdmondson: 7 Hints for Working with Busy Leaders http://t.co/J5zdIR5 via @ronedmondson […]

  • Mason Stanley says:

    This is a great post and is a very helpful reminder to me. Everyone is busy in their own way, so this doesnt just apply to "busy, important, church leaders." There is a time for work and then there is a time to sit down and chat until our eyelids give out. Unfortunately we don't make time in our private lives for those people as much as we should. And when I say "we" i mean "me." But when I have a chance to sit down with someone during their day when I am not their only agenda item it is importat to help me be respectful of their time and to apply these points!

    Another useful hint that could be hepful is to set a vibrating alarm on your phone a few minutes before your is up. That way you don't put the burden on the person giving you their time. And if more time is needed schedule a follow up meeting, but that way we don't monopolize their time. We aren't the only ones who need their expertise and for us to act as such is selfishness.

  • herbhalstead says:

    I'll have to save this in my bookmarks for that awesome day that I get to sit down with Rick Warren, Steven Furtick, or Ron Edmondson 🙂

    Good stuff, Ron. Seriously.

  • Kelly says:

    I guess I also question the idea of "experts", when I know that the Holy Spirit is as Himself in the smallest person as He is in the largest. I know that we all have different gifts, but I don't see evidence in the N.T of the hierarchy that we have in the N.A church. Why are people flocking to one person when there are most likely many in the church with the same gifting, but no titles? The problem is that my experiences are not unusual. I have received counsel from a young child that was just as powerful than any sermon I have ever heard. Why? The Holy Spirit serves His people thru His people…all His people. We appoint a chosen few to do "special" jobs that really aren't that special. They are routine to the Spirit, and so should be routine to all His people. Sometimes I wonder, what is it that sets these people apart? Is it really that they have more of the Holy Spirit? Or is it personality, charisma, the inner drive to get things done? These things come in handy when one is trying to fill 2000 seats in a church building. But, is that the point?

    I understand that this is the way the church in N.A works. And I do believe that it is respectful to honor someone's schedule. I know that everyone needs to set limits and boundaries for their lives. But if there are no "experts", if everyone is fully alive in the Spirit, then there is always someone around who is filled w/the power of the spirit and can serve the one who has a need. There is something inside of me, that cries out for more. More of God. More of the passion and recklessness and hope and faith that can move mountains. Less talk about how the last shall be first, and more joy at being last. Less important people, and more nobodies. Simple servants.

    I know it's not a popular viewpoint. But when I read about the acts church, it is really hard to tell who the experts are…

    • ronedmondson says:

      Again Thanks. Love dialogue. I would challenge you to consider Paul and why he felt the need to write letters as he did. Was it to share the expertise God had granted him by the Holy Spirit. He He did encourage people to follow him.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

      • Kelly says:

        I think that's my point, Ron. Paul was used of God in an incredible way, but he led as a servant. Would anyone look at him and think, successful, important person? Sought after, popular, comfortable…even safe? It just seems to me that Paul led from the bottom of the pile…and I think somehow, God's power manifiested itself in His low position. I talked to a friend today who is suffering in her circumstances, and I encouraged her to read Philippians, the letter of joy, to be inspired by the joy of someone who is definitely at the end of the line, but who is living in the wonder of Christ's love.

    • I loved this: "There is something inside of me, that cries out for more. More of God. More of the passion and recklessness and hope and faith that can move mountains. Less talk about how the last shall be first, and more joy at being last. Less important people, and more nobodies. Simple servants."

      Such passion – it was very moving and, I would suggest, an increasingly popular view in today's organizational management circles. Thank you for sharing.
      Twitter: BLichtenwalner

  • Tom Jamieson says:

    Great post Ron. Thanks for sharing. I had not thought about number 2 on the list. Taking the initiative not only to reach out but to also follow up is great advice!

  • Mike says:


    Great post. I think some of Kelly’s frustration, which I understand, stems from the phenomenon that I have observed in the modern church where some Sr Pastors seem to approach every encounter as a business appointment that needs to be scheduled.

    While I completely respect the time of busy influential leaders, life doesn’t happen that way. While I no longer pastor and work is fully in the business world, work life doesn’t happen on a schedule either.

    If Christian leaders are getting to the point where one on one ministry can no longer happen, maybe they need to rethink the breadth of their world.

    Thanks for all of the interesting conversations.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Thanks Mike. That is a great reminder to me. The busier I get administratively the more conscious I am of my need to continue to do real ministry.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

    • "…work life doesn't happen on a schedule either" – I like that. In fact, I think too many business professionals forget this fact as well. The greatest leaders, regardless of how busy their schedule is, make time for the casual conversation – even if it means blocking an hour or two each week on their calendar to stroll the halls.

      Thanks for sharing Mike.
      Twitter: BLichtenwalner

  • Kelly says:

    Okay. I am going to be honest here. When it comes to business, I completely understand the points you presented, Ron. When it comes to interacting with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ though, if any of the above were required to get a chance to connect with them, I don't want to.

    If I have to jump through hoops, follow a list of rules and be careful not to be too much "myself" in order to get an audience with one of these important people, (I know you hesitate to use the word important, but we all know that is what they are), why would I not go to my kindly Christian neighborhood senior who will make me tea and be so glad to see me, she'll probably invite me for lunch?

    Ah, but will her lowly advice or counsel be as valuable as that of the busy leader? Why not? Are they not both serving the same Holy Spirit? And frankly, the common, simple christian will have the time, not only to listen to me, but also to listen to God about me.

    I have shaken hands with these busy leaders, and have been foolish enough to be honest with them when they say, "So, how are you?" And I have seen the blank stares when I finish, because of course they really didn't want to know and are not prepared to look into my eyes, feel my pain, touch my hand and care. Does God not speak fast enough to drop words of life and hope into the mouths of busy leaders during the 3 minutes they have w/each person?

    Something tells me that if a leader does not have the time to sincerely weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice, if there has to be a formula in order to move God's precious children in and out of the leader's reign of influence as fast as possible, maybe something is wrong.

    Maybe the answer is to let go of the "busy", release the "important" label, and go back to being normal, simple, a nobody. Maybe Christian leaders who want to honor God in their ministries need to head to the back of the line, because the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

    In any case, when I need support, love and wisdom from a fellow disciple, my first instinct is to go to the back of the line to find someone who has the time to love me. Like, for real.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Thanks for your comment. I don't disagree with it if the busy leader isn't still humble enough to sit and cry with someone. This has more to do with schedules, and I don't have a problem working within someone's schedule. I think that honors them and their time. I look forward to hearing from others. Again, I appreciate your honesty.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

    • Kelly says:

      I'm sorry if I sound cynical, but it is crushing to finally work up the nerve to reach out and ask for help, esp. to the one that everyone is saying is the "expert", only to find your words trailing off into embarrassment and shame as you realize that you do not fit into the schedule and are out of line.

      Somehow, I can't see that happening in the Acts church…

      • ronedmondson says:

        I figured there was probably a story there. My hope through this post was to help bridge some of that. Thanks again
        Twitter: Ronedmondson

      • Kelly, for what it's worth, I think we've all been there at some point. From my humble perspective, an experience such as you describe has less to do the leader's hectic schedule and more to do with their lacking appreciation, recognition, respect and / or humility before the person approaching them. This is not to suggest the leader intended such a response either – they almost never do. Perhaps a good post would be to help such leaders maintain perspective and avoid such scenarios.

        Don't lose heart.
        Twitter: BLichtenwalner

  • josephmcole says:

    This is amazing advice! I think more leaders would be willing to help and/or mentor younger leaders if they knew their time would be respected and their emotional investment returned.

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