The best way to test your company’s preparedness for succession is to take unplug and delegate. Go on a vacation somewhere with poor or non-existent cell-phone service. If some of your operations prove themselves shaky while you’re away, you’ll get a good picture of where improvement is needed. More likely, though, you’ll discover that much of your company works better without you.
When you force yourself to totally unplug, here’s what you will find:
Matters that seem urgent rarely are
Waiting to respond can often be just the tonic required for an urgent matter to resolve itself. Having this happen without having to call a fire drill, reprioritize, or engage in other unnatural acts is a much simpler way to solve problems.
Your people will do the right thing without you
And they’ll usually do it more competently than you expect. Disconnecting gives the best of your people the opportunity to shine. They’ll show what they can do, experience full responsibility, and learn to trust that you really trust them.
You’ll observe your true effectiveness as a leader
If you have articulated a clear Commander’s Intent, your people will very likely solve unexpected problems in ways you’d approve in your absence. And if they don’t, you might want to take a second look at how effectively you’ve communicated your priorities.
It’s easier to see the big picture when you’re away
Distance clears your mind for thoughts about direction and strategy, thoughts that rarely have room to blossom in days filled with decisions and meetings. Richard Branson founded Virgin Airways upon returning from a Caribbean
Distance clears your mind for thoughts about direction and strategy, thoughts that rarely have room to blossom in days filled with decisions and meetings. Richard Branson founded Virgin Airways upon returning from a Caribbean vacation, because delayed flights and poor service gave Branson ideas about how he’d do better. A world of inspiration awaits you away from the office.
A stress test is healthy for the organization
It will expose both strengths and weaknesses. An unplugged vacation can be yet another tool for getting to the truth of what’s happening within the company.
When you leave town and trust your team to take care of the shop, you build their confidence. On the other hand, as long as you suspect the organization requires your presence for every important decision, your suspicions will no doubt be proved correct. To your employees, relying on you to make all the tough decisions is the path of least resistance. That passive mentality will prevail as long as you remain overly obsessed with control, so don’t be surprised that some of your employees may lack drive and ambition.
Perhaps you don’t think your team has earned their decision-making chops. Unfortunately, this too is a self-fulfilling prophecy— until you let them try, they will never show you proof. Grooming team members to get comfortable with accepting the responsibility of delegation requires you give them that opportunity.
If you are still not yet comfortable taking a real unplugged vacation you might try the following:
Start Small: Disconnect Briefly
Put your cell phone down and go out for a walk. Try leaving it in your drawer at the office. Try not taking it into a meeting. If you really get bold, try leaving it at home for a day. Unhooking the umbilical cord is difficult for founders. I’ve been on the golf course with founders who checked in with the office between each hole—a few even checked their email between each swing. But the first step toward unhooking is to remove the temptation to check in. For that reason, I strongly recommend that you never, ever acquire an Apple watch, Pebble, or whatever is the latest Dick Tracy device. Having a conversation with a founder constantly interrupted as he consults the email streaming on his wrist only had to happen once for me to be convinced.
Unplug and Delegate Some Authority
Next, try granting complete authority to someone in your organization to make any decisions that don’t seem to belong to anyone else. In most companies, founders can drown in minutiae that ends up on their desk because it doesn’t seem to belong to any other department. Make sure all these issues are assigned to someone you trust—ideally, a potential successor.
Plan a Meeting Without You
Next, initiate a company meeting but don’t attend. Empower someone else in the company to craft the agenda and run the meeting. You can watch it remotely, if you want, as long as you don’t participate. Witness your company operating without you.
Then perhaps you will comfortable taking the long awaited vacation.
Assuming you have been able to keep yourself off the grid and let things happen as they will while you were gone, you may just find the organization is plenty ready to go on without you.
Les Trachtman is currently the CEO of The Trachtman Group – focused on helping companies grow and scale, as well as managing director (and majority investor) of Purview, an early stage company focused on disrupting the medical imaging business. For the past two decades, Trachtman has lectured at numerous universities across the country including the Harvard Business School, the MIT Sloan School of Business, the University of Southern California, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Kent State University, University of Maryland Smith School of Business, Union College, and Quinnipiac University School of Business.
Trachtman has published articles in the Harvard Business Review and Quinnipiac University Business. A portion of his career is chronicled in the Harvard Business School case study; Les is More Times Four, which educates entrepreneurs at leading business schools. Learn more about Les Trachtman at www.foundertransitions.com, and connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Don’t F**k It Up is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.