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Are You A Good Multi-Tasking Leader?

If you answered YES to that question…then you are WRONG! And if you answered emphatically YES, then you are very WRONG!  Nobody is good at multi-tasking and research says that it may even be worse than just that. By multi-tasking you may be: hurting your relationships, damaging your brain functioning and definitely under-performing.

Relationship Quality

Dr. Helen Lin reports (Scientific American, 2012) that the mere presence of a cell phone during a meaningful or intimate conversation, damages the quality of the conversation. It also damages the relationship quality and feelings of closeness between participants. So simply by putting your cell phone on the table while you talk to a co-worker or a direct report, you are negatively impacting your communication.  Which means, if you look at the phone or computer when it rings, bings or bongs, you are really impacting their experience.

Over time, and repeated experiences, employees will grow to feel less important and de-valued. Specifically, it appears that the distraction of technology impacts one’s feelings of trust, empathy, closeness and connectedness towards the other involved.  It also seems that people who do this frequently, are less conscious of those around them and have difficulty connecting with those right in front of them. Leaders who do this are likely hurting an employee’s engagement, satisfaction and commitment to the organization.


  • Put your cell phone away during conversations

  • Close your computer before beginning discussions

  • If you are expecting an important communique, let the person know at the beginning of the conversation why you will be paying attention to the technology

  • Make distractions the exception, not the rule

Damaging Brain Functioning and Under-Performing

A Stanford University Study (2009) found that multi-taskers pay a heavy cognitive price for engaging in multiple things at the same time. The problem is that multi-taskers are frequently distracted and therefore get sucked in by irrelevant stimuli, which keeps them from focusing on the task at hand.  Over time, one begins training their brain to engage in distractions. This leads to lack of focus and consistent underperformance.

Ironically, research finds that high multi-taskers perform worse than low multi-taskers in activities that involve distractions. The reason for this is that high multi-taskers are not able to filter out irrelevant information to focus on what is important. By attending to the distractions, they are less capable of accurately completing the task at hand.

GENDER MATTERS! Dr. Travis Bradberry (TALENTSMART) cites a University of London Study that finds that constant emailing and text messaging lowers IQ by an average of up to 10 points. Interestingly women show a drop of up to 5 points, while men drop up to 15 points.  So everyone beware, but men especially so!

Leaders need to be especially aware of this phenomenon because they create the culture in their team. So as an individual you may be impacting your performance by multi-tasking, but as a leader you are training your employees to do the same.  By creating this synergistic effect, you may be drastically limiting your team’s success.


  • Shut down all windows on your computer that you are not currently using

  • Turn off your phone when you need to focus

  • Have important conversations in an environment free of distractions

  • Don’t train your brain to be distracted

Take Aways

Leaders are responsible for the morale and success of their team. Since multi-tasking has been proven to affect both negatively, it is imperative for leaders to remain mindful of how they manage themselves in the face of distractions.  The bottom line is: By performing more than one task at a time, you are underperforming on all things.  You will always perform better, if you shut out distracting information and focus on one thing at a time. Your employees will learn from your example and appreciate your full concentration!

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