A recent article in one of the business magazines I subscribe to captured my attention. It was an excerpt from an interview with the CEO of a multinational corporation who was responding to the question, “What will happen to the organization when you retire, after all you are the person credited with having carved this fine company into what it is today? Can the company survive and prosper without you?
The CEO responded by relating a story of a conversation that had taken place during a meeting several years earlier with his top executives who were laughingly competing with each other in sharing their stories of how often their vacations were interrupted by ringing cell phones as their direct reports checked in with them and sought their counsel.
As he listened to the friendly banter he realized that these very same people were the ones who caused him to spend much of his vacation and “down” time on the phone. They called to report in on matters and to seek advice in the same way their direct reports reached out to them when they were away.
These folks – his top lieutenants – loved their jobs, were as dedicated to the company as he was and clearly did not mind having their vacations interrupted by work related calls.
It dawned on him there was a point – an enormously important point – they were all missing.
After a few moments of listening to, and participating in the “who received the most calls” chatter, he took control of the meeting and introduced what has now become part of the organizational culture.
He looked at his team of hard-working and committed coworkers and explain to them, in clear, unequivocal terms that their organization was in deep trouble.
He pointed out a simple fact they all had seemed to overlook. He said the very fact that they felt compelled to be connected to their offices regardless of where they were in the world and that their direct reports constantly checked in with them as they, in turn checked in with him whenever he was on vacation was overwhelming evidence of a sad truth.
They had failed.
He went on to explain that if they truly are so indispensable to the organization that it could not function without access to them, then the longevity of the company was seriously in question.
As an executive team they had overlooked a vital piece of their responsibility. A key role that every leader, manager or supervisor must play is to ensure their own absolute dispensability. It is to make sure that those beneath them in the organizational hierarchy are fully capable of stepping in and replacing them, without interruption, as if they had never existed.
So he installed a new rule, not just for his senior executive team but to be filtered down through the entire organization.
The new rule stated that on your last day at work prior to departing on your vacation – even if the vacation was simply a weekend away with your family – all communication devices, all technology – cell phones, laptops, tablets etc. were to be placed on your desk until your return. In short, he banned his managers and supervisors from taking these devices with them.
When this doctrine was first introduced it was met with strong resistance and a sense of panic.
His senior manager expressed fear at having to make decisions without conferring with their bosses and his Board of Directors questioned both his judgement and his sanity.
He remained resolute in his determination to have this rule enforced and publicly assumed responsibility for all risk associated to this unusual move.
To the surprise of many, but not to him, in the years since that decree was first posted, the company has continued to prosper and grow and there has not been a single occasion where the inability to reach a senior manager in a time of crisis has led to poor decisions being made.
He ended the interview by repeating his viewpoint that leaders and managers who believe their organization will not survive and prosper without them have failed in their most vital duty – to ensure their successors are fully capable of taking over from them so that when they do go on vacation no-one notices they’re gone.
He questioned how many leaders can get past their egos to do this.
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
Till we read again.