Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Vacation used to be a luxury....

... however, in today's world, it has become a necessity." Unknown

Today, I’m wrapping up my vacation and tomorrow I head back to work. I’ll pay for being gone. When I left the office, I managed to get my e-mail inbox down to zero – it won’t be zero now and it will be a while before I’m caught up. There are some tasks that I let sit for two weeks and I’ll need to get started on them again. I know I have a workshop to lead on Tuesday and a committee meeting on Monday in addition to regular meetings so there will be no easing back into the action when I return.

That’s not meant to be a list of complaints; it’s just the reality of taking time away from a busy job. As a result, many people choose not to take vacation or they only take little bits of time away. Then even when they are away from the job, they spend time answering e-mail and working on projects - not much of a break. People in leadership positions are particularly prone to this behavior. After all if they are gone, someone else must pick up the work and keep things going. This can create one of two worries – either we worry that the work won’t get done right without us or we learn that we aren’t indispensible. It’s hard to know which worry is scarier, so some people worry about both!

Yet the reality is that we all need time away and perhaps effective leaders need the time away more than most. Have you ever been frustrated working on a jigsaw puzzle? Then you get up and walk away for a while and when you come back not only do you find the piece immediately, you can work a large section quickly. It also works with crossword puzzles and anytime you are stuck in a project. Time away, no matter what you do with it, refreshes your vision, your ideas, and your perspective in many ways.

Think for a moment about the word ‘recreation.’ One dictionary defines it as ‘refreshment of one's mind or body after work, through activity that amuses or stimulates’; another defines it as ‘refreshment of health or spirits by relaxation and enjoyment’. But there’s a third way to think about it. When you split the word it becomes re-creation meaning re-newal. And that’s the most important reason to take vacation. It may be hard to get away, it may be hard work when you come back, but to continuing being effective creative leaders, we need to take a break – a real one – and come back renewed and refreshed and ready to do our best work. Vacation as a leadership skill - who knew?

Take care,


Sunday, July 11, 2010

I don't know what to write today!

Sometimes as leaders we are faced with an assignment that befuddles us in some way. It may be that we don't really know how to do the task. It could be that we have a lot on our plate and we can't fathom how we fit in one more item. Sometimes the problem is that there is a deadline and that can be paralyzing; other times the problem is there is no deadline and the task falls to the bottom of the pile of things we have to get done. Sometimes I don't have a single idea about how to get started, at others we have too many ideas and can't pick out one of them to focus on.

That last one is where I am today. I have a number of half-baked ideas and can't seem to get any of them to gel in a way that seems useful or even barely sensible. So I have a choice, as I do every Sunday and what I'm choosing to do about it tells something about my leadership style. I'm choosing to admit that I don't know what to do today. I'm choosing to admit that ideas don't flow from my pen to the page every time I sit down to write. In other words I'm choosing to admit that I'm human.

It seems to me that a fundamental problem with leadership is that leaders are afraid to admit that they are human. And there are good reasons for that fear. It's not irrational. There are people who will use the fact that leaders don't have all the answers against them - even the very people who appointed, elected, hired the leader will do this sometimes. And yet I believe that the fact that leaders feel the need to hide their flaws. their questions, or the fact that they don't have all the answers is one of the major reasons that leaders fail. The need to hide who we really are and that we really aren't perfect can result in leaders' unwillingness to ask questions and their inability to seek advice and counsel from people who have differing ideas. This leads to the failures we have seen in the news. On a smaller scale, it can result in workplaces that stifle rather than support creativity, in offices where it is hard to tell the hard truth and, in organizations that are miserable.

If we want to create healthy, honest, creative organizations of any kind, it is important for leaders to be forthright about their strengths and weaknesses. It is important for leaders to make it possible for people to speak the truth. Sometimes, in admitting that we are lost and confused we find a way to lead effectively, we manage to make a difference in our organizations and, as you can read here today, we find a way to complete the task before us.

Take care,