Early in my career – well before cell phones – I’d step away from my desk to meet with a colleague or client or leave the office for lunch and return to find a “While You Were Out” message.
The message indicated someone had stopped by or called me while I was away. Now my response was required.
August is the month many of us step away from the daily grind. We may travel great distances, take a short trip or stay close to home and unplug from work.
Our family will soon spend part of August in every Texan’s favorite state park: Colorado.
Behavior I’ve observed over the past few months started me thinking about what happens while leaders are out. Some of the things that happen are good. Some are not. And some leaders never step away at all.
Here are nine vacation-related questions that reveal hard truths about your leadership style, organizational culture and accountability. How will you respond?
There are several advantages of what Americans call “vacations” and most of the rest of the world calls “going on holiday.” The first – and obvious – advantages of stepping away from your job are the opportunities to relax, reconnect with friends or loved ones, make new memories and recharge your internal batteries.
Ask: When did I last fully unplug from work? What must I do to enable my team to run things for at least two weeks without me?
Some leaders find it difficult to step back from micromanaging or to step away from work for even a few days. Failure to delegate means you’ve got two problems. The first problem is you: You refuse to give up control. The second problem is your team: You’ve got the wrong people in roles so you don’t trust them to do the work.
Ask: What’s causing me to resist delegating to others tasks I should not be doing?
Talent shortages create challenges with vacation schedules. Attracting and retaining top talent has never been more difficult. Forty years ago, Frederick Herzberg identified one of the best ways to retain your top-performing colleagues in his HBR article, “One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees?” Here’s the punchline: Give your best people more responsibility.
Ask: Who on my team is capable of handling more responsibility? What am I doing to encourage these people – regardless of their age, tenure, or position – to blossom?
My father worked with and for some great people and with other people who slowed him down and frustrated him. He used to say that everyone gets two vacations: their own and their supervisor’s.
Ask: Where am I getting in the way?
Data, KPIs and other statistics help us separate fact from fiction and mitigate emotions, bias and blind spots. W. Edwards Deming worked under Gen. Douglas MacArthur and was dispatched to Japan following World War II to advise business leaders. Deming almost single-handedly transformed “Made in Japan” from its association with “cheap and shoddy” to “high-quality.” He often said, “In God we trust, all others must bring data.”
Ask: When comparing performance to an objective set of data, what do I see?
It pays to examine regularly the work being done. Up-close study can be revealing. Other times, a broader view is illuminating. “Trust, but verify” is a Russian proverb Ronald Reagan used on several occasions in the context of nuclear disarmament discussions with the Soviet Union. It’s a useful practice.
Ask: How consistently do I inspect what I expect?
There’s a growing trend among leaders to combine business travel and leisure travel. Visiting job sites and field offices and meeting with clients at their place of business will provide perspective you can’t get from a balance sheet. “A desk,” wrote espionage author John le Carre, “is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”
Ask: What early warning signals point to declines in our performance?
I’ve heard several stories from leaders in the last sixty days of bad things coming to light when the person in charge calls in sick or takes their vacation. When jerks, cover-up artists and untruthful supervisors aren’t around for extended periods of time, the truth emerges.
Ask: What problems surface when routines shift or people step away from their area of responsibility?
Time and distance provide additional perspective, and so spending time away from the office allows us to clear our minds, re-order our priorities and return to the office reinvigorated to handle tough challenges. Many times the challenges waiting for us upon our return involve people.
Ask: If I were hiring for this position today, would I hire the person who’s currently in it?
“A vacation,” wrote columnist Earl Wilson, “is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking.”
So step back, step away and make the most of your time away from your routine.
Contact Greg Bustin today to schedule your free leadership consultation and follow on LinkedIn for more updates.
About the Author:Greg Bustin advises some of the world’s most admired companies and leaders, and he’s dedicated a career to working with CEOs and the leadership teams of hundreds of companies in a range of industries. He’s facilitated more than 250 strategic planning sessions, he’s delivered more than 600 keynotes and workshops on every continent except Antarctica, and he coaches leaders who are inspired to take their career to the next level. His fourth leadership book— Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture (McGraw-Hill) —is a Soundview Executive Best Business Book.