“Your Time is limited” – Steve Jobs

As a child I was told many stories about great leaders from the past who made incredible sacrifices for their people. One of my favourite is the story of Queen Abla Pokou, a strong and loving queen who led the Bouale people to the Ivory Coast about 300 years ago, and who made a profound sacrifice for their well-being. In return, they have granted her their deep love, since then till this days. What has she accomplished that made her such a great leader? What was her sacrifice?

Abla Pokou was born a princess of the Ashanti Empire in Ghana, around the early 18th century. Following the death of the king, a succession war broke out among different groups of the confederacy and Pokou led her people westward, through a long and arduous journey. They walked day and night and soon they faced the Comoe River, which is the natural border between what are today Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The river was unsurmountable, its waters were dangerous, and they had no mean to cross it safely. Their enemies were fast approaching and the queen had to find a solution quickly. She turned to one of her closest aide, a priest, and asked him what it would take get to the other side safely. The priest answered “Queen, the Genie of the river is quite irritated, and he would only stop once an offering of what is most dear to us is made to him.”

Hearing this, the women in the group brought to the priest their gold and ivory jewelry, and the men offered their cattle. But the wizard, shook his head sadly, and said “What is most dear to us is our sons!”

To this and before anyone in her group could react, Queen Pokou stepped forward. She took in her hands her toddler son who was wrapped on her back, held him high, and laid him down in the river. After her sacrifice, the legend says that hippopotamuses appeared and formed a bridge, by which Queen Pokou and her people crossed safely to the other side.

Today, each of us also face unsurmountable rivers in our various leadership roles; whether as father, as mother, as manager, as CEO, as business owner, or as citizen, we often come across dangerous rivers that we must cross with the people in our team. And we too have to sacrifice what is most dear to us to realize our mission. Sacrifice can be define as “an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy”. As a person and as a leader, what would you say is your most precious asset? What do you sacrifice for the sake of the people you lead?

I believe that what is most dear to us is our time. “The greatest gift you can give someone is your time because when you give your time, you are giving a portion of your life that you will never get back.” – Anonymous

What our children, our team, our customer, and our community, need most from us is our time. As we’ve seen in the story of Queen Pokou, you cannot buy yourself away from your leadership calling with silver and gold. Also, it is not about the quantity of what you sacrifice. The genie in the story did not need more than one child. What matters most in our role as leader is the quality of the time we spend with our people. This is something I have learned over the years especially as I have been taking roles with increasing responsibility at work and at home. As a leader, I am very protective of my time and I am very careful about how I invest it. Yes, because time is such a scare resource, it’s allocation must be seen as an investment. Don’t spend your time randomly, instead invest it wisely. Make sure that every minute counts and produces meaningful returns. Here are four rules that I developed and that I always have in mind when it comes to investing my TIME:

T for “Target”

First I always ask myself whether what I am about to do is aligned with my long term target. This means being able to say no to propositions that distract me from what really matter. It is Warren Buffett who said that “the difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” He also said: “you’ve got to keep control of your time and you can’t unless you say no. You can’t let people set your agenda in life.”

I ask myself continuously, “what’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” Gary Keller. Here are three activities to help you stay on target:

  • Plan your week in advance. Personally I do this exercise on Sunday evenings. I plan in detail what I will do every day for the next seven days, from the time I rise from bed to the moment I go back to sleep.
  • Block time in your calendar for your most important goals. These include your children school play, weekend escape with your spouse, and daily actions to progress your number one goal at work or in your business.
  • Review at the end of each week how much quality time you spent on each of your key leadership roles: Parent, Spouse, Business Leader, Community Leader, etc..

I for “Instant”

Instant as in now. Now is the most important time. Be fully present at what you do. For example, during meetings give your full attention to the matter being discussed. At home give your undivided attention to your spouse, and to your children in all your interactions. “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus” Alexander Graham Bell. Similarly, your actions as a leader have different impact depending on the attention and focus you attach to them. Remember that, people will not care about what you say until they know how much you care about them. And the first sign of the importance you give to anyone is the attention you are willing to give to them.

M for “Meet with yourself”.

To be a good leader, you must first look after yourself. Protect the first hour of every day and offer it as a gift to yourself and go through a routine that supports your personal development. I personally use the framework of the Miracle Morning proposed by Hal Elrod and that includes:

  • a moment of silence for meditation and prayer,
  • the practice of affirmation and visualisation techniques,
  • a physical exercise routine to wake up my body, and get oxygen flowing to my brain,
  • the reading of at least 10 pages of a self-help book or a biography,
  • and taking a moment to write in my journal. The habit of journaling will allow you to clarify your thoughts and feelings by putting them down on paper.

Meet with yourself, and you will be able to better serve the world. It’s a time when you ask yourself the important questions about your life and about your mission.  In my next book, I dedicate a full chapter to this very important concept that I believe is an absolute for anyone looking to become and remain the master of their live.

E for “Empower others”

Productivity is key for leaders. As we seek to achieve the maximum in the limited amount of time we have, most of us try to multitask, only to find that there only so much that we can do at the same time. This results in unfinished or lower level output, or burnout, or all the above. How can you then improve your productivity and respond to the increasing demand that come to you as a leader? The answer is, empower others. “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Jack Welch

Empower others and you will boost, expand, and spread what you can achieve in the same amount of time. More importantly, when you develop people around you, (your children, your spouse, your family, your friends, your colleague, etc..) you know that you are leaving a lasting legacy that will survive you.

In summary, lead with TIME (Target, Instant, Meet with yourself, Empower others) and you will earn the love of the people you serve.



Written by Maxime Yao

Speech delivered at Toastmaster Winter Leadership Summit, January 27th, 2018, Geneva, Switzerland

First published April 30th, 2018

Copyright 2017



The Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod

The One Thing, Gary Keller

Focus, Daniel Goleman

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