Authentic leadership and time management are two well-trodden topics. Except we don’t often see them in the context of each other. What is the connection between the two?


For persons in positions of responsibility, success and failure in business are, in truth, success and failure in the mastery of time.

Time management starts with an understanding of time.                      

– Peter Koestenbaum in Leadership, The Inner Side of Greatness [1]

The speed and elasticity of time

Time is a fundamental aspect of being a human and yet equally unfathomable.  Everyone from the ancient philosophers to modern day neuroscientists have been trying to decipher time and our relationship to it.

Imagine your experience of 15 minutes at the doctor’s office. One is that of waiting for 15 minutes before a procedure, whereas the other is that of being 15 minutes late. In mechanical clock time, both are the exact length. But in our experience they are not.

Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour.
Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute.
THAT’S relativity.

– Albert Einstein

Time stagnates when we are bored and disengaged. It flies and is almost non-existent when we are engaged and engrossed in what we are doing, in what Mihaly Cziksentmihalyi calls flow experiences.

There is a sense of timelessness when we are fully engaged and in flow. Boredom and disengagement tend to have a slow velocity whereas flow and engagement have high velocity.

Another sense of timelessness can be that of “time slowing down” to the point where you have no awareness of time. This can happen in moments of increased consciousness, when in nature, while meditating, or while playing with your child.

Lived, subjective, or experienced time has a speed.

If time passes slowly, it can mean boredom, an unpleasant task, pain, anxiety, or guilt. If it passes at moderate speed, then it may mean satisfaction or indifference. But if time passes quickly, then there may be joy and intense happiness, distraction, entertainment, or absorption, that is, meaning.

– Peter Koestenbaum in Leadership, The Inner Side of Greatness

Notice how clock time does not have a speed. It is steady, constant, and mechanical. On the other hand lived time, our experience of time, has a velocity, a sense of speed that comes out of our experience of life.

Clearly life and time are not as linear as we sometimes assume them to be. They are elastic and malleable based on our experience.

Traditional time management

The typical approach to time management in order to counter overwhelm and burnout is to compartmentalize and prioritize using the latest techniques, systems, and gadgets. This is a more downstream tactical approach.

While this can be effective and is important, the effects are often don't last. We eventually revert back to our older habits. What can be more fruitful is to look further upstream, at the very nature of our experience.

When we experience boredom, disconnection, stress, or burnout, it has a lot to do with our experience of time. Burnout is more likely to happen when there is a disconnect between what we are doing and our underlying convictions and reasons for doing so.

Time problems that lead to burnout suggest that a fundamental decision about who you are and how you shall lead your life has not yet been made and is overdue. And that is a decision that takes great courage to face. Unless you address this need for decision and for courage, your scheduling problem cannot go away.

– Peter Koestenbaum in Leadership, The Inner Side of Greatness

One example is that of the person on a mission, one who is aligned with his internal values and convictions, and as a result does not necessarily realize or care how many hours they are putting in. They just respond naturally to what is required and needed. If the work requires them to put in 16 hour days for the next few weeks, that’s just what happens.

It is as if the structure of time has collapsed into a black hole.

The human-core approach to time management is, first, to know the difference between authentic and in- authentic experiences of time and, second, to achieve control over lived time.

Control over time is achieved not by what you do but by your decisions about attitudes and perceptions. You are a time-generating organism (time does not exist without your creating it through your living). You can change your perception of time.

– Peter Koestenbaum in Leadership, The Inner Side of Greatness

When we are in alignment with our internal motivations and convictions, it creates a generative, perpetual motion machine inside us that does not need outside sources of energy or motivation. It is harnessing the generative energy of creation itself.

It's when we are disconnected from this source that we need outside structures to keep us motivated and going.

Problems with time cannot be resolved at the level at which they are experienced, for they are experienced at the level of being in time, and they can be solved only at the deeper and more real level of being time itself. That level means being totally true to oneself.

This truth about time becomes increasingly apparent as one rises on the ladder of executive responsibility.

– Peter Koestenbaum in Leadership, The Inner Side of Greatness

Authenticity and time

Peter Koestenbaum gives the distinction between when we are “in” time vs when we “are” time itself.[1]

When you are “in time”:

Time can be experienced or thought of as an external act—a reality outside of me, within which I exist and which limits and constricts me. This kind of time is called clock time or spatialized, mathematical, linear time.

The only solution to the pressures of clock time is to fragment it, to set priorities, and to marshal fierce self-discipline. Such effort, although laudable, nevertheless leads to the mechanization of the self, the technocratization of human existence. It logically promotes regimentation and bureaucracy, that is, technical efficiency. That may be necessary, but it is neither living nor human.

– Peter Koestenbaum in Leadership, The Inner Side of Greatness

When we “are time” :

Time is also an internal fact: I am time; time is the very essence of the self. The inward ego is a time-generating organism.

I can never feel pressure from what I am or from who I am, only from what I am not.

– Peter Koestenbaum in Leadership, The Inner Side of Greatness

Understanding the difference between when we are “in time” vs when we ”are time” can give us meaningful insight into our authenticity or inauthenticity in what we are doing.

To the degree that one’s life is fully authentic—clearly in tune with what one experiences as one’s destiny, manifestly originating from within one’s deepest inward source […]—one has no problems with time, for then there is meaning in everything one does, and there is fulfillment in every expenditure of time. One lives life naturally, from the inside out, as time (and not, unnaturally, in time, from the outside in).

Problems with time are ultimately problems with authenticity (which is also to say that authenticity is the correct experience of time), with being true to one’s meanings, with responding to one’s existential guilt, and with maintaining a total perspective.

If you have real problems with time scheduling (problems that lead to symptoms), it means that in some fundamental way you do not like your work, that you are not leading your work life (or your life in general) as you deeply need to lead it, and that you are not assuming full and mature responsibility for your own life.

– Peter Koestenbaum in Leadership, The Inner Side of Greatness

In relativity physics, if you are going at the speed of light time stops. In the same vein, when we are going at the speed of life, time stops or becomes non-existent.

We become timeless or in other words we become time itself.  We do not experience it because it is not something separate from us but we are it. We are time.

TS Eliot captures this idea eloquently in Burnt Norton:

Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time …

– TS Eliot, Burnt Norton [2]

The texture of authenticity and inauthenticity

Our different experiences of time can be symptoms of larger underlying structural issues. The texture  of the dimensions of our lived time can tell us a lot about our authenticity or the lack thereof.

Below are the different textures of past, present, and future, based on how authentic or inauthentic our experience is.

When you compare your experience against this list, what jumps out? Consider why it is so.


We don’t need a definition of authentic leadership to check against. Our own experience can tell us the truth more than any definition can.

How is time showing up for us? How are we showing up in time? Are we time?

Further Reading

For an exploration of a more productive way of looking at time, check out Leadership Requires Understanding Time Differently. We often measure progress by using speed as a criteria. That might not be the best approach in all situations.

There can be different ways in which how we experience and leverage the past and the future. I explore key ideas in Pulled by the future vs Pushed by the past.


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References

  1. Leadership, The Inner Side of Greatness by Peter Koestenbaum.
  2. Four Quartets by T S Eliot.
Sheril Mathews
After a 20 year stint in various technical/management/leadership/ positions in the wilds of corporate America I started LS to help leaders & high performers level up their game.
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