5 Ways to Make the Most of Time Off

You have a glazed look in your eyes as you go haphazardly from one task to the next, no longer able to muster the energy to even send emails with complete sentences – it’s time for a break.

Burn out doesn’t help anyone – not you, not your organization, not your coworkers, not your clients. Though you may think you don’t have time for time off, it’s time to make it. And what better time of year to do so than the summer? So how do you make the most of your time off?

Prepare before your leave – Nothing signals that vacation is over like the onslaught of emails or the unresolved crisis you return to the day you come back. However, some preparation can make this more manageable. For example:

  • Give colleagues and clients a heads up that you will be out of the office. Ask them to let you know before you leave if they need anything so that you can do it ahead of time.
  • Assign someone to be your emergency point person. This is the person you will note in your out of office message (And whatever you do, don’t forget the out of office message!). Set up a meeting with them before your time off and go over everything that you are working on and what they may possibly have to deal with while you are gone.
  • Ask coworkers to only copy you on essential emails requiring your response. We all have inboxes full of email threads and mass emails. Likely those won’t even be relevant by the time you return, if they even were to begin with. Set expectations and tell coworkers to remove you from “list serves” and cc: lines while you are gone, and to only send emails that will require specific action from you when you return.
  • Instead of constantly checking email while you are away, plan time when you return to catch up on emails or what Shana Montesol Johnson calls “an extra virtual vacation day.” In addition, she also recommends setting up email filters and prioritizing responses.

Disconnect from the office – It can be hard. Perhaps you fear an emergency will arise that no one else can manage (hopefully saying this to yourself will sound a little bit absurd) or you just don’t want to be inundated the day you come back, but a vacation doesn’t work if you are checking email every day and taking calls. Make time to completely disconnect. Turn off your phone, shut your computer, and remind yourself that if you’ve done your job as a leader, the office can run itself. If you absolutely can’t tear away completely, set up designated time blocks to be completely disconnected and set limits on the times you aren’t – such as an hour a day or once a week.

Reconnect with yourself – We can lose ourselves in the constant go, go, go. Whether we’re on autopilot or in hyper-drive, we can forget to make “me time.” Use your vacation as an opportunity to reconnect.  Plan some time to focus on self and what makes you happy.

Enrich your mind – Vacations provide an excellent opportunity to learn and grow. Read that stack of leadership books or those articles that you have been too busy to get to. Catch up on good blogs or speaker series. And of course, conversation! Use the time to have long and meaningful conversations; what better way to learn?

Gain a new perspective – While vacation is an excellent time to reconnect with yourself, it is also an opportunity to gain a new perspective. When we visit other countries or try new things, we learn to see the world in a way we never had before.  These experiences can inspire us and help us to bring fresh-thinking back to the office when we return.

Time off is critical. No matter whom you are or how busy your day is, everyone needs time to rest and recharge. Vacations give you the opportunity to reconnect with yourself, enrich your mind, and come back more productive and innovative than when you left. So enjoy the beautiful weather this summer and get out of the office!

Friday Fast Tip: No Surprises

When possible, avoid surprises. Challenges and issues are going to come up, but if you are prepared for them, you can overcome them. It is when you are surprised that things get really difficult. Do your research, know the potential risks and consequences, and be transparent about what lies ahead, even if it’s not so pretty. Don’t be afraid to admit there will be issues, instead be prepared to deal with them.

What I’m reading now: The Power of Bringing People Together

Out of the many ways that managers get things done, one of the most underused is what I call “convening authority”: the ability to bring people together to share information, build alignment, or solve problems.

“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

Recently we held a town hall to get feedback from our employees on what’s working and what’s not. Since this was an open forum, we had to be prepared to address both the positives and negatives. It can be difficult to accept critiques, but as a leader you must accept that some negativity is part of the job. So how do you do that?

Learn the difference between constructive and unconstructive criticism: Criticism can sting. In most cases we try our best, and when we aren’t successful, and worse, when someone recognizes that and tells us, it doesn’t feel good. But criticism, when constructive, can be very helpful. It’s how we learn and grow. Perhaps we didn’t even realize what we were doing wrong or how to do it better. When someone brings our attention to the issue, it allows us to improve. That is constructive criticism – well meaning feedback and advice intended to help the person receiving it. For example, “When you present you say ‘um’ often; one technique that can help with that is slowing down as you speak.” On the other hand, unconstructive criticism (and flattery too!) doesn’t provide any meaningful information or advice. You can think of this as the “teenager feedback” – “this sucks!” If it doesn’t answer why, what, how, or what next, it’s likely not constructive. Unfortunately, not much can be done with this criticism. While you can always ask for more information or suggestions, if the person can’t give it to you, you just have to move on.

Know that the loudest person isn’t always the voice of the people: You will never please everyone. It is not possible. That’s why we prioritize and compromise, because unfortunately we can’t have our cake and eat it too. However, just because someone voices their unhappiness, doesn’t mean their unhappiness is representative of the larger group. It’s critical to distinguish between a small group of particularly “loud” individuals and a brave spokesman of the larger group. So how do you hear past the loudest voice?

  • Ask others – If you don’t know, ask. Survey others to see if they agree with the criticism. It is especially valuable to speak with people who you know will be honest with you.
  • Ask for examples – If they can’t give you sound examples, then they might just be blowing steam.
  • Listen to the whispers – Focus on the quieter voices, what are they saying?
  • Be empathetic – Sometimes when someone is complaining they just need someone to acknowledge them. It doesn’t mean you think they are right, it just means you’ve heard them.
  • Ask for suggestions – If someone is willing to bring up an issue, they should be willing to help address it.

It’s true, you aren’t always right: Everyone has to be wrong once in a while. We all make mistakes and leaders are no exception. We may have made a decision based on bad information or with unexpected consequences. It happens. The trick isn’t to always be right, it’s to admit when you’re wrong and work with your employees to create a solution. Your employees will respect your honesty and the initial negativity that may have arisen will quickly dissipate.

Holding an event, like our town hall, is incredibly valuable. Though you may receive some difficult feedback, it gives you the opportunity to hear what issues are most important to your employees and refocus your efforts on those.  I appreciated everyone taking the time to attend and contribute to our town hall. As a leader, criticism will always be a part of your job, but it’s about honing in on the constructive points and making changes that can have a real impact.

This post’s title is a quote by Aristotle.

How To Be Replaceable

Are you irreplaceable? If you are, you aren’t doing your job as a leader.

The job of a leader isn’t to be everywhere all the time, solving every problem, and coming up with every solution. Instead a leader must empower their people, so that when you do need to be replaced, say for a vacation or eventually even retirement, it can be done as seamlessly as possible. So how do make yourself replaceable?

Provide formal training for your employees: Despite the numerous opportunities for learning outside the office, such as online classes or Communities of Practice, formal training is not dead. It is important to take time to educate your employees on the topics that are most critical to running your organization. That includes not just what you do, but how you do it. So for example, if you sell widgets, you don’t want to just teach employees about the great features of your widgets, but also how you sell those widgets and what the client experience should be like. Then there are also topics that are critical to running any enterprise, like what it means to be a manager at your organization.

Take an employee (or two) under your wing: Never underestimate the value of shadowing, whether a formal apprenticeship or a more informal mentorship. This gives your employees the opportunity to see your role first hand and how you handle certain situations (even if that isn’t always successfully). A lot can be learned from observation, so bring high-performing junior employees to the “table” – to engagements with clients, financial meetings, conferences, etc. After each of these experiences, take a moment to discuss what took place and why. Ask them for their opinions of the situation, what they learned or were surprised by, and what they would have done. These conversations will help your employees to further comprehend and cement the experience.

Give up the reins: I have often said, and will likely say again, there is no substitution for experience. There are very few people in the world who can listen to a piece of music and then play it back flawlessly on the first try. Learning and mastery take practice. This requires us to delegate some of our tasks to our employees. Delegation can be hard, either because you feel guilty giving someone else work that is “yours” or because you feel that no one else can do it like you can, but neither of these reasons are productive. They won’t help you and they certainly won’t help your employees. If you are concerned about the former, well unfortunately no leader has the capacity to do all of the work they are given. It is about prioritization and recognition that you can’t do it all, which is why you have a team to begin with. If you are concerned about the latter, start your employee with a small, manageable task and work them up to something larger as they build your trust. Keep in mind this shouldn’t take years. If you find yourself unable to give your employee more challenging work, either they are failing as an employee or you are failing as a leader – it’s time to reevaluate.

Becoming a great leader isn’t about having secret skills that no one else has. You didn’t become a leader, because you never took a day off and learned everything instantly. You became a leader because someone took the time to show you the way, to teach you, to let you try. Yes, you could have failed – that is one of the many calculated risks leaders have to take – but it is with these experiences that you became the great leader you are today. So make yourself a bit more replaceable, and start preparing the leaders of tomorrow.

Reflect, Implement, & Progress

A time to celebrate and reflect: As we all take time to relax with family and friends this week – it is a good time to take stock of the contributions/innovations we have made to our family and to our workplace. We only make progress when someone has a bold thought and works through the implementation. Whether at home or at work, I challenge all to pause this week and think of something new and different. Evaluate the value of that on your home life and/or work and move out…This is how progress and change is accomplished.

Happy 4th!