When You Cannot Take a Vacation | Business LockerRoom

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By Kelly Riggs | Sales + Leadership

Jul 26

When You Cannot Take a Vacation

by Kelly Riggs

Being needed is great, isn’t it?

Well, as long as you’re talking about personal relationships, I guess. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from knowing someone “can’t live without you.” Romantically speaking, that is.

But, if you’re the boss, and that someone happens to be your employees, yours is a bleak existence. Or soon will be. I envision all kinds of problems. 14-hour days. Unused vacation. Dysfunction. Ulcers.

The truth is, when the troops can’t do without you — when you cannot take a vacation because the place will fall apart — both your work and personal life can get ugly. You never seem to have enough time to get to the truly important things, and team performance is necessarily going to suffer. It will suffer now because you’re the bottleneck in a system that limits the team’s output, and it will suffer later because you fail to develop the talent underneath. That failure will inevitably result in long-term employee disengagement, mediocre performance, and – no joke – health issues.

So, here is a simple test: Can you take a five-day vacation – a full nine days away from the office when you include the two weekends – without any contact whatsoever with the office?

No email. No telephone contact. No work whatsoever while you’re gone.

Do you trust that your team will perform well without you? Or, if you somehow managed to take that week off, would you have to take a laptop, an iPad, two cell phones, and a dozen unfinished projects? When you returned, would your desk be piled with weeks of work when you returned?

Yes, being needed has its drawbacks.

Not surprisingly, the problems associated with “being needed” extend to leadership succession as well.

IacoccaLook at Howard Schultz, for example. He left Starbucks, but was forced to return after eight years amid a significant downturn in performance. The late Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985, and returned twelve years later after three successors failed. In 1992, Lee Iacocca stepped down as the CEO of Chrysler and, following years of declining sales and a failed merger with Daimler Benz, he returned in 2005 to reprise his old commercials.

“If you can find a better car, buy it,” he urged buyers. Unfortunately, they did. Bankruptcy followed in 2009.

Now it happens so often, they’ve taken to calling them “Boomerang CEOs” – corporate founders or execs that leave a company only to return later when the replacement fares poorly: Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Mark Pincus (Zynga), and Tim Westergren (Pandora) are high-profile examples.

Three Reasons Why They Can’t Do Without You

Let’s focus our attention on owners or leaders of small-to-medium sized businesses, and managers of corporate divisions, departments, or regions. Let’s consider if one of these leaders steps out of the picture for a vacation or some time away and the organization falters. What is the problem?

Actually, it’s not hard to guess what the problem is – the leader has failed to develop the talent of the team or organization. Instead, he or she micromanages the team, makes all the important decisions, solves the big problems, and keeps a tight rein of control on most everything.

The real question is “Why?” Why does the leader get into this position?

Here are three common reasons:

  1. Some managers just need to be needed.Some manages derive much of their own personal worth and self-esteem from “being needed.” They love to answer questions and solve problems. They live to make decisions, issue orders, and otherwise direct workplace traffic. Promotion to management is simply a validation that they are better than most, and control is the reward they receive for being good at what they do.
  2. Some managers are scared to death of the consequences of failure.
    The fear of failure – which some managers consider to be a personal failure, and a reflection of their worth – causes them to exert control over everything. They assume their heads are on the block, so they really MUST make all the decisions and solve all the problems. They were promoted for their past performance, so they naturally assume that they are more qualified than anyone to make decisions. And, again, they are sure that heads will roll if someone screws up, so better to take matters into their own hands.So, while they may actually be the smartest person in the department, that (sadly) will ALWAYS be true. The problem is that great employees won’t work for them, or they won’t stay if they happen to get hired. And, employees with real potential never really develop.
  3. Most managers just don’t know any better.Most managers never get any leadership training. They get promoted for abilities, but never evaluated for leadership capabilities. They don’t know how to build teams, lead change, develop people, manage performance, or any of the other critical leadership skills because they’ve not been taught. And, by the way, the sales department, is usually the worst. They take their best salespeople and drop them into management roles with absolutely no training or mentoring. And you already know how that turns out.

Unfortunately, whether the cause is ego or fear of failure or ignorance, the results of failing to develop talent in the organization is ultimately the same – the toll on both the leader and the organization is punitive.

Fortunately, these problems can be solved. It won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy. And you will need to invest some funds. But it’s ‘pay me now or pay me later.’ You will invest the money one way or another: you will pay for leadership coaching and development and recoup the investment in improved results in the future, OR, or you will lose revenue and margin due to marginal performance from mediocre teams.

Pay me now or pay me laterPay me now or pay me later.

So, the solution begins and ends with leadership training and development, but it is just as important to reset expectations for the roles and responsibilities of these leaders. To get an idea of the path you should be on, answer these questions:

  • Is the role of the manager to do the work, or is he or she tasked with getting the work done through the employees?
  • Do you want the manager to function as an expert with assistants, or as a leader of a team with capable players?
  • Do you think it’s reasonable to assume the team will improve performance if the players’ capabilities stay the same
  • Should you compensate the manager simply for financial results or should you think about people development as a component of compensation?
  • Do you expect the manager to create a career development plan for each direct report?

But, hey, don’t let me steer you astray. Maybe your managers can handle it.

It is good to feel needed, right?


About the Author

Kelly Riggs is a business performance coach and founder of the Business LockerRoom. A former national Salesperson of the Year and serial entrepreneur, Kelly is a recognized thought leader in the areas of sales, management leadership, and strategic planning. He serves clients ranging from small, privately held companies to Fortune 500 firms. Kelly has written two books: “1-on-1 Management™: What Every Great Manager Knows That You Don’t” and “Quit Whining and Start SELLING! A Step-by-Step Guide to a Hall of Fame Career in Sales.”