Putting ‘vacate’ back into ‘vacation’

Today marks the end of summer.  As I reflect back on this past season, one thing sticks out as a problem for me.

Have we all forgotten that the word ‘vacation’ comes from the word ‘vacate’?!

This summer I don’t know of anyone who really vacationed.  Sure, they went somewhere but they didn’t really vacate their jobs.  During their time of relaxation they were attached to their phone, computer, etc.  They really didn’t leave work.

Ok, you’re probably saying that I’m some sort of lunatic.  Come on, given the economy it was only prudent to stay connected to the office.  If that is the case, then you’re failing as a leader.

Yes, you are.

A leader must train their team so that they become self-sufficient.  Doing so not only allows for greater commitment, creativity, and loyalty from the team but it also frees up the leader to concentrate on further developing the organization (including their own development).

So why do so many of us believe we have to stay connected when on vacation?  I think it’s actually due to several reasons:

  • Deep-down we don’t believe they can function without us

  • We are the reason—the main reason—for the success of the organization

  • We like to be in control

  • We like to be ‘missed’ so to prove our importance we check-in

  • It’s much easier to keep up on vacation rather than have a pile of messages waiting for you when you return

  • Technology is cool, allowing you to stay connected

Imagine the messages this sends to your team.  The lessons regarding trust, communication, and daily operations remind them, sometimes nonverbally, that they are subservient to you and your knowledge.

Ask yourself, do you shop at Wal-Mart because of Sam Walton?  Do you drive a Ford because of Henry Ford? 

What we can learn from these leaders is that they knew that their legacy was in their leadership.  They created organizations that have sustained the test of time.  They built companies based on collective success rather than personal power.  If they had not, these companies wouldn’t exist today. 

I once had a manager who required me to call in every few days while on vacation.  I was puzzled why she required me to do so since we had worked together for several years, nothing major was happening while I was out, etc. but nonetheless, I called in every other day.  When I got back, I expensed the calls.  She was irate.  I said that I felt it was justified since she required me to do so.  She took the case to HR and Finance.  Interestingly, they both backed me saying that since she required it, the company had to reimburse me.  While I’d like to say I taught her a lesson, she actually taught me a lesson.  From that day on, I learned the value of leadership and trust.

This same lesson was reinforced last year when I advised the leader of one of my nonprofit clients to take the full-month off and not call or log in.  In discussions, I knew that he was beyond a reasonable limit of stress and was no longer effective.  He did so and came back renewed.  Unfortunately, his organization was incensed.  His board called for his resignation and cited his lack of leadership—he abandoned them.  In talking with several members of the board, it became clear that they had unrealistic expectations for him.  Eventually, he left the organization.  All had lost trust.  Sadly, no one came out a winner in this situation.

And don’t forget the ‘other side’ of these lessons.  Just think about the messages you are sending to your family and friends when you spend valuable vacation time with them logging and calling in.  Who is more important?

So let’s all work hard to put the ‘vacate’ back into ‘vacation’.  Show leadership by trusting others.  Model effectiveness by organizing others before you leave.  Use technology rather than be abused by it. © Copyright 2009 Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.