Some of my most memorable lessons in business occurred around the beginning of August every year. The European leaders of the company, including many at the top, would say goodbye and start their vacation that would typically last several weeks. They expected those who worked for them to take care of the business and even handle emergencies. We knew they were not only gone, but for all practical purposes they were out of touch. This taught us that real leaders were confident of their status and didn’t need to check in every day to remain the boss, they trusted their people and realized the importance of getting away from work. They understood organizational productivity or efficiency.
The most interesting part of these summer hiatuses was how freeing it was for the entire organization. People took the time to breathe, while at the same time they stepped up to another level of responsibility. They ran the business rather than doing things to impress others. The little stuff felt not as important and even the major decisions did not seem as critical. The business continued to run. Lots of work got done and when the vacations were over everyone came back refreshed. Before long, the lessons taught by senior leaders started to roll down to the rest of the organization as responsibility was shifted downward and micromanaging lessened.
It struck me when reading Martin Zwilling’s piece from the Forbes blog on productivity how relevant this topic was for those August days. Note that he adopts the lessons from Jan Yager’s book Work Less, Do More: The 14 Day Productivity Makeover. The most obvious lesson is the one that says rest will make you more productive. If you constantly work like a gerbil on an exercise wheel you never have time to see anything but the wheel. When the leaders stepped away they came back with fresh vigor and often with new thinking and this completely reenergized the business. Maybe that is why they were the leaders.
Several other points from Yager’s list seemed relative to our industry. The first is the ability to eliminate distractions that take time away from important work such as closing customers. So much time seems to be dedicated to endless meetings, texts, emails and voicemails that there is no time left over for what is really important, the business. Another item that hit home dealt with delegating tasks, but not relationships. The same leaders that took the time off in summer always seemed to have time to work with customers and to hold face-to-face meetings. It seemed like they controlled their time rather than letting others dictate what and where they should be. They focused on people and getting results rather than just doing stuff.
Finally, I love the concept of aiming for excellence rather than perfection. There is a huge leap between the two. Real leaders are confident enough to do things very well and then move on to the next piece of work. They understand that if you wait for perfection things will often not get done and even if they do the cost of being perfect is not worth it. Perfect is often not even appreciated by the customer. Good enough is usually good enough.
There is a reason that leaders become leaders and others should learn from their example. Leaders recognize that productivity is a fraction. It is a measurement of output over something, either time or money. Productivity can be increased by either increasing what is done during a fixed time or for a fixed spend or by spending less time or money to get the same output. Leaders know that both parts of the fraction are important.
Take a look and see if you don’t agree that those who lead your organization often live the principles of productivity. Start to recognize that your value to an organization is measured by output over a time period rather than just output. Promotions go to those who demonstrate the skills necessary to work efficiently and drive organizational productivity. You see you may need to work less to get further ahead.