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Leaders Don't Multitask People

We cannot consider ourselves selfless if we prioritize the tasks on our “to do” list before the people we are called to lead.

I remember two bosses of mine – Barry and Samuel. I liked working for both of them. They were good people and very good at their jobs. While I would run through a wall for Samuel, with Barry I always held something back. In retrospect, the difference was in the time they spent with me. They both always claimed to be there for me and to be 100% engaged with my team and my own development. But, their behaviors proved that Samuel was truly a selfless person and that Barry had priorities other than me.

Barry was a multi-tasker. The problem was, I knew I never had his full attention. I could hear him typing on his computer while we were speaking on the phone. When we were together, he would glance at his computer screen or his phone. He would even yell out the door to someone passing by his office while I was in the middle of a sentence. His approach always made me feel as if I was just another task he needed to take care of each time we spoke.

Samuel always shut his computer or silenced his phone when we spoke. He looked me in the eye and asked me questions that really challenged me to think about my own solutions. He took the time to ask how I was doing and remembered to ask about my family at the beginning or the end of every interaction. His last question was usually the same: “Can I move any obstacles out of your way today?”

Who would you rather follow Barry or Samuel? Now ask yourself: Would you follow you?

Exercising Selflessness is inconvenient. In fact, we are not being selfless if we only pay attention to other people’s needs when it is convenient for us. By definition, Selflessness is inconvenient. We can’t consider ourselves to be selfless if we are not putting people in front of the tasks on our to do list. We can’t multitask people and expect them to be committed and trust our leadership. Barry and Samuel are two good people who I responded to very differently.

The people we are called to lead know whether we are a Barry or a Samuel. Let’s not be naïve. They pay attention to how we behave. When our eyes drift to our open computer, or we are half listening to a conversation on the other side of the room - they know it. If they know we don’t respect them enough to fight the temptation to multitask them, we will never have their respect or trust.

Exercising Selflessness is not complicated, but it is hard. Here are some ideas:

  • Block out time every day for one on one interaction with people on your team.

  • Ask yourself at the end of the day, “Who did I make better today?”

  • Take extra time with people. Don’t be in a hurry to get to your next thing.

  • Put your phone down when your spouse or child speaks to you.

The temptation to only do the convenient things is in all of us. The battle is real because we all have a selfish side. The difference was Samuel was willing to fight those battles and Barry wasn’t. By choosing to fight those battles, Samuel had my commitment, respect and trust. Selfless Leaders of Character who are willing to sacrifice their own convenience for the sake of others attract willing followers. Who would you rather follow Samuel or Barry?

Now again, ask yourself: Would you follow you?

Dig Deep Questions:

  • What temptations do you need to fight when you are with others?

  • Who do you need to make a priority to listen to this week?


Taking responsibility and exercising Selflessness is a lifelong journey for not only you, but your team. We want to partner with you as you make Selflessness part of your organizational culture. When it comes to remembering the definition of Selflessness, let us help to make it easy to keep it visible.

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