Thursday, August 13, 2009

Leaders: Take a Break!

I loved this story in a recent edition of SmartBrief on Leadership:

Take a vacation -- for your team's sake
When the boss takes a vacation, it sends a signal that others in the company can too, which is essential for workers to be able to recharge, writes Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte LLP. Leaders need to get vital work out of the way before they leave, have a top-notch team in place to handle day-to-day business and then limit e-mail contact as much as possible. When leaders learn to unplug and let go, it allows others to relax a little, he writes, which helps boost productivity in the long haul. Leadership blog (8/11)

This story really hit home for me because I just returned from a week long vacation. I enjoyed every minute of it, felt energized, and had no regrets or major problems my first week back. In fact, I'm proud to say that I've never not used one of my vacation days and have taken a week long summer vacation ever since I've worked.

I commend Barry Salzberg for this kind of leadership, and having his priorities straight. Look, if an indiviual would rather spend all of their time at work, then that's up to them. But as a leader, you're setting an example and expectation that's messes with other people's lives. Then it's not OK.

At the risk of pushing my own personal values on others, you might also want to take a look at this advice from Marshall Goldsmith, where he says "You may work for a wonderful company and believe that your contribution is very important. But when you are 95 and you look around your death bed, very few of your fellow employees will be waving goodbye! Your friends and family will probably be the only people who care."

OK, what about the leader who really wants to take time off but just "can't"?

This isn't just about vacation, it's also about the hours you work. Are you a leader that routinely works 12-14 hour days, and every weekend including Sundays? It’s been my experience that many exceptional leaders are so good at what they do they are able to get their work done without having to do this. And, they still have time to spend with their families, do community work, serve on Boards, and maybe even sail or play a little golf. They can do this because they want to, and, they excel in the the skills of:

- Talent management
- Delegation
- Time management
- planning and organization

An executive I know recently really drove home this point for me. He’s one of the top performing of his peer group. He hardly ever works on weekends, finds the job to be pretty manageable is always looking for a new challenge and has a hearty appetite for leadership development. Yet many of his peers find the job overwhelming. When asked why, he said somewhat hesitantly, “maybe it’s a capacity issue”?

How about you? Are you getting home at 8:00pm every night? Do you work on Sundays? If yes, is it because “the company” is making you do it? Are you doing it because you want to? Or because you think you should (because everyone else does)? Do you brag about it like a badge of honor? Or complain about it like a victim?

Or is it because you need to develop in your role so you can do your job better, and in less time than anyone else?

Try looking at it this way: Remember taking those standardized tests in school? Do you really want to be the last person leaving the test room?

In summary, are the hours you’re working a “will” or “skill” issue? Either way, it may be time to make some changes that will benefit you, your loved ones, the people you lead, and your company.


Mary Jo Asmus, President, Aspire Collaborative Services LLC said...

Dan,great advice. The fact that you were comfortable taking a vacation and knowing that everything would be fine while you were gone is a testament to your leadership.

The best leaders have developed, delegated and trust their people so the work gets done well when they aren't there. In a way, the best leaders are always "working themselves out of their job" by doing these things (or laying the ground so they can be promoted and have others to take their current job!).

"Work-Life Balance" isn't just about taking time off or worker shorter hours. The deeper advantage of renewal and rest fosters greater energy and commitment.

Laura Elizabeth said...

Great post. Pride is the issue... it's so hard, but so necessary, to admit that your organization will not crumble away if you are not there for a week or two.

Dan McCarthy said...

Mary Jo -

Laura -
Good point, it could be a little pride, or insecurity.

Bob Hall said...

Great post. Like you mentioned in your closing, not all bosses and not all companies are like Barry Salzbert and have much more of an expectation of availability for their people.

In this case, it's important to set your boss's expectations by setting boundaries around what you're willing to do (and not let him or her set them for you). As long as you get your work completed in a professional matter, you should gently be able to show your competence and loyalty. Your boss should be able to deal with your boundaries.

If not, well, you have to wonder about the respect your boss or your company has for its workers and decide if it's time for a change.

Dan McCarthy said...

Bob -
Right, every company and manager is different. And some roles actually do require 24/7availability. I'm talking more of the self-imposed, unspoken expecation.