Is It Time To Take A Break?

After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working – Kenneth Grahame

wooden signboard on tropical beach

I’m going on holiday next week. If you’re one of my friends, or colleagues, you probably can’t wait for me to go – I haven’t shut up about it for weeks. It’s my first holiday in four years. I’m nearly ready to go. I’ve handed over keys, projects, and back-up contact details. I’m writing my out of office message now.

I’m terrified.

Of course, I am looking forward to getting away; but I enjoy my job, and I take pride in the things that I achieve. I enjoy ticking things off of my ‘To Do’ list, and love delivering great customer service, and working closely with my teams and clients. So, of course, I’m scared about what will happen if I jet off abroad, and my colleagues aren’t able to deliver the same level of service. Or, even worse, what if there’s a disaster back here that I need to deal with? Do I trust my team members to handle things in the right way?

I’m thankful, of course, that I do have a wonderful team covering for me, and I know that they’ll be able to handle any curve-ball that might come in their direction whilst I’m topping up my tan. However, it is the moment that every leader dreads: they’re lying back on the sun lounger, about to jump in for a swim, and there’s a crisis back home.

This fear is clearly demonstrated in politics. As the BBC so rightly points out: in a world of 24 hour news political leaders are under public pressure to be back at work in a moments’ notice – many even ditch their holidays and return to work. This doesn’t extend only to politics. Former BP CEO, Tony Hayward, was heavily criticized for going sailing just after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The Institute of Leadership and Management surveyed over 1200 leaders, and uncovered some startling figures:

  • Over half of all managers work whilst they are on annual leave.
  • 71% of leaders feel more stressed in the run up to a holiday; and 17% return from holiday more stressed than when they left.
  • 80% of managers checked their smart phone on holiday.

Should leaders be working on holiday?

This is a tricky balance. On one hand, they need to show that they aren’t chained to their desk; and accept that it is ok to take a break occasionally. They may, however, find that they still need to take the lead if something goes wrong. Timing is critical. Whilst leaders don’t need to be checking their e-mails every day on the beach, they should also not to appear to be dragged back to work “kicking and screaming”.

Will it make a difference?

Overworked leaders need relaxation more than ever, but the existence of mobile phones, cheap wireless internet connection, and 24-hour rolling news means someone can do their job just as well from almost anywhere in the world.

The general media seem to think holidays are a bad thing – remember our politicians being forced to return home? It seems they expect the Prime Minister to be running the country from his BlackBerry. The Training Journal, however, points out that all the research suggests people should be taking breaks. They identify that the opportunity of clearing out clutter and rubbish whilst on holiday is typically under-used. They also identify that, by delegating key responsibilities to their team members and not interfering too much, new leaders can step up and get an experience of running the show; deputies can step up and experience what holding the reins actually feels like. They might surprise you. Even if things do go a little pear shaped, it’s a chance to identify space for personal and professional development.

So, perhaps having no mobile signal can be a blessing?

Aside from your friends back home thanking you for not uploading hundreds of #Holiday #BeachSelfie’s to social media, the chance of an interruption-free holiday might be exactly what leaders need to do, both to recharge their own batteries, and to challenge others to step into their shoes.

This knowledge doesn’t stop the pre-handover stress.

You can plan for your absence, and work on cutting down your holiday related stress levels:

  • Create handover notes about the status of your work or projects, and if you have people reporting to you, give them clear guidelines on tasks they need to complete while you’re away.
  • Tie up any loose ends before you go on leave. Aim not to leave anything half-finished. Even if that means identifying where something won’t be completed until you return.
  • Identify everything likely to require attention in your absence and who will be responsible for each – Brief those who will be acting in your absence and be clear about what their role is. They can probably do more than you think. Then, crucially, let them get on with it!
  • Make sure that you inform your key contacts that you will be away – this will cut down on the number of messages you are sent in your absence.
  • If you are planning to check work e-mails, establish ground rules: only do so once or twice a day, and switch off your laptop or iPhone in between.
  • Set up a detailed out-of-office response for both your e-mail and phone line. Include the dates you’ll be away and a person that can be contacted in your absence.
  • Do not open your e-mail account straight away upon your return – catch-up meetings with team members might be a better alternative, and save you time trawling through e-mails. Remember to appreciate where people have used their initiative and made decisions, even if these weren’t perfect.

With all of these tips in mind, I think I’m ready. There’s a sun-lounger on a Greek beach with my name towel on it. All I need to stress about now, is what factor sun lotion I need, and which bikini’s to pack!

Top 3 Reasons Why Being a Great Leader Isn’t Easy

A few months back, I asked a group of leaders for a show of hands on who had experienced either oversupervision or undersupervision. Almost every hand went up. But then I asked how many had themselves oversupervised or undersupervised their direct reports. Only one or two hands shyly peeked out from the crowd.

So what’s going on? Well, leaders can sometimes be unaware of what they should and should not be doing. And this lack of awareness separates good leaders from great leaders. Great leaders know that leading is a never-ending journey that can be filled with treacherous obstacles.

So what do you need to know to become a great leader?
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Leadership Advice: Words of Wisdom for My Younger Self

Child in suite

I don’t have regrets and I know what my mum would say if I comment on how lucky I have been at work. The line ‘you create your own luck’ normally rears its head. I won’t tell her, but she’s right! I do wish at times I had more confidence in my ability though and wasn’t so hard on myself.

I have pondered over the last week what I would tell my younger self if I had the chance, but also what I would tell other young or aspiring leaders.

You can influence others without authority

You may not be a manager or have direct responsibility for making a decision, but you can contribute and you should. You thoughts, ideas and input are valuable and may have a huge impact on an individual, department, business unit or even a whole company.

You will have a job as a Project Assistant for a local authority in your Summer holidays whilst studying at university. You will be brought in to do the project team’s filing, but you need to show interest in the ‘bigger picture’, learn the team’s objectives and how you can help them. A number of small projects later and you will find yourself on an away-day working on a transformation strategy with the heads of service. Imagine that! Never think you can’t influence others.

You will get knocked down, but you will get up again

It was Winston Churchill who said ‘Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm’.

Your career won’t all be plain sailing, there will be set backs and challenges. Just remember that everyone needs these challenges and to make small mistakes in order to learn.

You wouldn’t have the length and breadth of knowledge years down the line without a period of learning and we all gain that from ‘doing’ and making errors. It’s a hard fact of life, but don’t beat yourself up over it. You’ll be a stronger person as a result.

Be inquisitive

I was talking to my team this week on the topic of ‘thinking like a child’ and I wanted to tell my younger self to always ask questions. You are a sponge when you are younger and have a creative, out –of-the box thinking that often gets lost as we get older. We have more responsibilities and the stresses and strains of life take over.

So, my advice is to be inquisitive, ask questions and soak up as much information as you can. You have a great opportunity to learn from everyone around you, the good bosses and the bad. Treat it as a gift.

Take all opportunities available to you

When we progress in our careers there’s the tendency to take on too much and to have to learn the art of delegation and sometimes just saying ‘no’.

My advice to the younger me is to take every opportunity that comes your way. Everything is an experience, a learning curve and some will be a marvellous adventure. People will admire your enthusiasm and are more likely to offer you other opportunities in the future.

There’s a lovely quote from Mario Testino, he said ‘my favourite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity. I think if you are curious, you create opportunities, and then if you open the doors, you create possibilities’.

The challenge of youth; earn the respect of others and be positive

It’s going to be a bitter pill to swallow; but the reality is that when you are young people will judge and question your ability. The best thing you will ever do it to remain positive and plough your energy into proving your worth and earning the respect of others.

This is not a bad hand you have been dealt, it’s an opportunity to prove your worth and to shine. Every manager you will have will admire your determination and perseverance; it’s up to you to gain their respect.

Be confident about your value

This last piece of advice is not about strolling into your bosses’ office and asking for a pay rise, but it is about giving yourself a pep-talk when things aren’t going so well.

Always be confident in your ability and know your worth. We are all different and that means we are have unique strengths that add value to a workplace – know what your value is and bring it to the table.

Lastly, keep a phrase, quote or mantra in your pocket for the tough times. I will give you a start with the latin phrase ‘Carpe Diem’!

carpe diem

HR’s Seat At The Table

Many moons ago the HR role was seen as an administrative role, looking at the rules and processes that govern the organization. Nowadays HR is much more than that, HR is (or should be) a strategic partner to an organization and can help an organization leverage human capital to the maximum. However some organization’s still see HR departments as cost centers and refuse to give them what is needed. HR are a core part of any business and should occupy a seat at the C-suite table.


So how does HR get a seat at the table?

Get to know your business – Understand your business and what makes it tick. What is your organization trying to achieve? What constraints are managers under? The structure and decision power in your organizations. Learning about what is important to the business will help you plan and prioritize what needs to be done in HR.

Knowledge is power – HR professionals need to have a vast understanding of the world around them. It’s not only important to understand what is going on in the world of HR but also to understand the environment, the industry. HR skill-set’s also need to be evaluated, are the team equipped with the necessary skills to work at a strategic level?

Develop key relationships – Network within your organization, drop in ways the HR department can help with problems people might have. Offer advice to managers informally. Be present!

HR tools – Research what tools are out there to help you show how you turn results into meaningful actions. Google’s HR division (at Google HR is called People operation’s) is tuned in with what the business needs and provides it. It has a data driven HR function, that works with analytic’s and data rather than subjective decision making. If you want to learn more about how Google use this data please check out Dr. John Sullivan’s blog post (Click Here).

Bottom Line – HR need to link their strategic plans to the organizational goal and business needs. If HR actions are linked to a business need it will be easier to demonstrate how it has contributed to the bottom line. Until this happens HR will continue to be seen as a cost center.

Unfortunately when budgets are cut, it seems to be the HR budget that is hit first. HR need to prove their worth to the organization in order to gain a seat at the table.

Top 10 Things Leaders Do to Bust Trust

British vs. American Culture!

Are you a “Come On” leader, or a “Go On” leader?

I recently went out for some drinks with friends of mine who both work in the medical profession. Each of us being in leadership roles of some form, the discussion turned to styles of leadership. They both agreed that, in their line of work, you couldn’t work with junior team members – new doctors, and nurses; and tomorrow’s leaders of the health system – simply by telling them what to do. You had to be there to show your team how things should be done, and then let them take the reins whilst you step back.

This reminded me of a speech I’d heard about four years ago. I don’t remember all of the details, but I remember the key opening line. In life, you’ll come across two types of leaders. There are “Come On” leaders – leading from the front, setting the example, and pioneering the way for their teams; and there are “Go On” leaders – who take a back seat and keep a bigger picture overview, encouraging their teams and individual team members to be pushing their projects forward and taking the lead.

 “Come On” Leaders:

  • Inspire and motivate others by showing them how things are done. They demonstrate that something can be achieved, and encourage others to ‘have a go’.
  • Innovate and develop new and original ideas – challenging those who argue that “this is how we’ve always done it”.
  • Focus on people, their skills, talents and expertise, and utilizes those.
  • Inspire trust between others. They don’t need to continually check in on those they lead.
  • Have a long-range perspective and can see a clear long-term goal or vision.
  • Ask “what?” and, most importantly, “why?”
  • Challenge the status quo.
  • Do the right thing.

“Go On” Leaders:

  • Plan, organize and coordinate, instead of jumping in head-first.
  • Focus on systems and structure to ensure that everything is in place, and running as it should.
  • Rely on control – they know their team will follow instructions because of their position.
  • Can focus on the short-term view, and concentrate on the here-and now; ensuring they have all of the relevant data, and not ‘jumping ahead’.
  • Ask “how?” and “when?”, not only looking at what needs to be achieved, but detailing out how we can get there.
  • Accept the status quo.
  • Do things right.

An employee is likely to follow the directions of a “Go On” leader for how to perform a job because they have to – they lead others by virtue of their position, and people will follow because of his or her job description and title. However, an employee will follow the directions of a “Come On” leader because they believe in who they are as a person, what they stand for and for the manner in which they are inspired by their leader.

“Go On” leaders will have subordinates, but “Come On” leaders will have followers – and perhaps this highlights a key point, that – to be a “Come On” leader, a person doesn’t necessarily need to be in a leadership position. Think about someone on your team who is always coming up with the new ideas, and continually raising the standards.

“Go On” leaders have an ability to get their team as prepared as possible; making sure they are clear on the objectives, and then ‘get out of the way’. They don’t go away completely, but they allow the people they are leading to take responsibility – a leadership style which can give others on a team the opportunity to step into a leadership role.

The key skills of “Come On” leaders include:

  • Honesty and integrity – these are crucial to getting people to believe you and understand where they’ll be following you to.
  • Vision for the future – “Come On” leaders need to know where they are, and where they want to be.
  • Inspiration – a “Come On” leader won’t be able to ensure the success of a team unless they can win their hearts and minds and make sure they understand their role in the bigger picture.
  • Ability to challenge – they can’t be afraid to challenge the status quo, and to do things differently. They need the skills to think outside the box.
  • Communication skills – they need to be able to keep their team informed of where they are, and share openly any problems they encounter along the way.

Skills which might suggest being a successful “Go On” leader include:

  • Being able to execute a vision – take a strategic vision, and then break it down into a roadmap or an exact process to be followed by the team.
  • Ability to direct – they need to be able to step back and oversee, day-to-day work efforts, review resources needed, and anticipate needs along the way.
  • Process management – establish work rules, processes, standards and operating procedures, essential to holding people accountable and ensuring people are responsible.

Paul Morin writes on Company Founder of the benefits of ‘leading from behind’, as a “Go On” leader might do – and gives some specific examples of how it might work to take a step back; and even Nelson Mandela demonstrated a love for being a “Go On” leader with his quote: “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

Yet, Fred Hassan speaks in the Harvard Business Review about the importance of having “Come On” leaders on the front line.

No single type of leader is better than the other – both “Come On” leaders and “Go On” leaders have their individual merits; and very often, they work hand in hand.


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