How do leaders spend their time?

Time is a scarce resource for everybody. That’s the case for business leaders anywhere, including those from places stereotyped as time-mindedless (excuse the linguistic liberty!) such as sub-Saharan Africa  (SSA) countries. There’s a reason why most leaders in these places have a driver: this way, they can work while in traffic jams. How do these leaders spend their time?

The 2017 African business outlook survey deals with this issue. The Economist and Corporate Network online-surveyed 150 executives. 22% of them executives pointed operational optimization as one of the major challenges faced by their companies.

Time: a very scarce resource
Time: a very scarce resource

For instance, Robert Collymore, CEO of Kenya’s leading mobile network operator Safaricom, said that he spends 50% of his time on operational issues, 30% on strategy, and the remaining 20% on managing external stakeholders. Optimizing operational parts of the process is crucial to devote more time to activities such as strategy- and innovation-related actions that may expand the company’s potential growth.

In sub-Saharan Africa, a generally poor infrastructure development is a huge drag for operational logistics, and it clearly sets back an important part of the economic activity. For instance, long traffic jams (see the post Urban Transport), the poor shape of roads, and other connectivity problems have operational consequences such as increased delivery times. Also, the frequency of black outs experienced in many SSA countries (see the post Energy Poverty) and other basic supplies shortages increases operational costs.

My IESE colleagues Philip Moscoso and Alejandro Lago have published a practical guide to optimize business operations that could be also useful for African leaders. The authors emphasize the need for companies to revise in depth their value chain, and to constantly innovate and experiment with totally different ways of doing things. If you take a look at this guide, you will find some recommendations that may help optimize operational processes, and in turn save leaders’ precious time.

Any experience on optimizing the operational process in SSA?

Nadim Elayan, Research Assistant at IESE Business School, collaborated in this article.
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12 thoughts on “How do leaders spend their time?

  1. Very interesting article.

    My “African experience” as a Director in a Multinational Company in Central Africa is that I used to spend more than 95% of my time in operational or “nitty gritty” issues.

    Quite interesting to note that the lingala word “lobby” means “today” and tomorrow” which makes it quite difficult to plan activities on the medium and long term.

    Precarity implies an adapted management style.

    1. Thank you very much,

      That is another interesting consequence: the difficulty to plan activities in the medium and long term. This must be a huge drawback for growth.

  2. Currently I’m working as consultant in several SSA countries, mainly Nigeria.
    Infrastructure is part of the problem, but in spite if infrastructure,l the really old cars in the roads collapse circulation. In a city like Lagos, with more than 20.000.000 inhabitants, you find a broken car each 200m. All Barcelona metropolitan area collapses with three broken cars…

    Top managers are involved in operational issues as they can’t delegate in a very low qualified middle management. There’s an abyss between top managers, educated in the best universities around the globe: Iese, Harvard, Osford,… , and the more operational managers. Education is also a huge issue in SSS.

    1. Thank you very much for sharing this interesting experiences and insights. Recruiting talent is doubtlessly another big challenge.

  3. Thank you Nadim and Africa! It is quite difficult to make comparisons here … as different African leaders optimize their operations differently, mainly due to their countries’ specific need. If I take two East African leaders, for example – Paul Kagame of Rwanda and John Magufuli of Tanzania. They are both hard working leaders; they are changing the landscape of their countries. They optimize their operations differently, yet they’re having some very positive impacts in their countries. Both countries, for example, have recently recorded resilience in their economic growth, as reported by the World Bank. As we engage in this conversation of optimizing operations, we need to remember two fundamental issues here: being “absolute” and “linear” in optimizing operation -which is very typical in the west; or being “circular”, relative and subject – which is very common in sub-Saharan Africa!

    1. Thank you very much,

      As always, very interesting to read your comments and we are delighted to keep learning more about your insights.

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