There is a lot of talk by executive coaches about how senior leaders in growing organizations should work "on" their business instead of "in" their business, the logic being that those in the C-suite should focus their efforts and energy primarily on strategic big-picture issues rather than the day-to-day minutiae (which should be left to trusted deputies in their companies).
I don't disagree. But this conversation is often followed closely by advice such as "you should be able to go on a two-week vacation and never have to check back into the office; the mental break will allow you to return refreshed, ready to take your company to even greater heights" or "your time is better spent networking at the golf course or at industry events because that is where you'll discover new business opportunities and further build existing relationships."
Which also sounds great … in theory. But this is where the gap between theory and reality begins to widen.
Sure, turning the day-to-day management of your maturing company over to the people who work for you so that you can focus on long-term and strategic matters sounds like "textbook" management come true. But unless the process is thoughtfully and deliberately handled, you will end up with major problems in your organization on just about every front.
I have seen many leaders of growing companies whole-heartedly embrace this philosophy and then subsequently crash and burn. Now don't get me wrong – I don't disagree with this principle. You should be able to delegate the day-to-day running of your organization over to the troops and take a relaxing vacation, completely unplugged, with no access to office technology. But if you're going to journey down this road, then you better make sure that you're setting your people up to succeed.
Create the needed organizational structure
Don't go on a fishing trip in the wilds of northern Ontario unless you've set up an infrastructure to allow your organization to move forward in your absence. Your leadership team needs clarity on its scope of responsibilities. If you're a growing company, you need to establish an organization chart that lays out who's responsible for what, not just for what is currently happening, but also for what might come up. Organization charts may seem overly bureaucratic, but if yours is a company that's expanding rapidly, then people need to know who's in charge of what, particularly if you're planning to be unavailable.
Give people the tools they need
Don't abandon the day-to-day obligations in favour of long-term strategic issues unless you've given your leadership team the tools it needs in order to take action without you. Good leaders empower their employees to make decisions and take action.
It isn't enough to tell folks what they are (or are not) responsible for, you also need to give them the authority to act to fulfill those responsibilities. Don't make it so that they have to come running to you to "check" before they can make decisions within their areas of expertise. Whether that means giving them the financial authority they need, or ensuring that they have the relevant background information, or making sure that others are in the know, set your folks up to succeed by giving them the tools to take action when they need to.
And if you can't let go completely, then make sure you communicate the limits after which you need them to come back to you. There is nothing more frustrating than to be given responsibility, but not the authority to act to carry it through to completion. Don't do that to your leadership team.
Build confidence by encouraging practice
Don't spend your days on the golf course rubbing shoulders with movers and shakers unless you've given your people an opportunity to build their confidence acting in your absence. Odds are that if you're a growing company, then your senior team is used to you making the final call. So pushing that responsibility out to them may require some confidence-building – and that comes primarily with practice. Give them opportunities to build up self-assurance in their decision-making while you're still around to support and express your approval. That means letting their decisions stand, not swooping in to veto the approach they've already chosen.
I'm not saying that CEOs of growing companies can never take a vacation. But to simply hand the reins over to your next-in-commands is irresponsible. Fear not though … do these three things, and it is possible to take that unplugged holiday without setting your people – and your company – up to fail.
Merge Gupta-Sunderji (@mergespeaks) is a speaker, author and blogger at TurningManagersIntoLeaders.com.