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George Reed
Scholar

George Reed

A retired U.S. Army Colonel, George Reed is an associate professor in the Department of Leadership Studies within the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego.

A Culture of "Busyness"

Everyone understands leaders should make time to recharge, yet there are also expectations these days that they remain available, informed and plugged in while on vacation. How should they strike that balance?

Where did we ever get the pernicious notion that time away for relaxation, reflection and renewal was a luxury? At its worst this attitude takes the perception that those who take vacation are somehow unnecessary. Such a culture of "busyness" is downright harmful. It suggests that some are so vital to the enterprise that they cannot be replaced. That is an unlikely assumption on its face, and it also tends to obstruct necessary succession planning. No single person should be indispensable to a worthy endeavor.

It also sets a negative impression about leadership for future leaders. Think about what it says to the next generation when leaders model workaholic tendencies. Be careful about the example that is set by one who doesn't take vacation, or is always the first one in the office and the last one out. We shouldn't be surprised when our best and brightest see that kind of behavior and then opt out of positions of greater responsibility.

Leaders in stressful positions do their organizations no favors if they are worn out. Those who are tired and overwrought often make bad decisions or lose their composure in ways that they later regret.

As to where the balance between connectivity and renewal sits, I recommend that leaders look for patterns in their own behavior that indicate when a break is warranted. For my own part I know that I make my worst mistakes when I am tired and annoyed. I have learned that when I become irritated over issues that I would otherwise view as minor it is time to unplug and get the kind of rest that leads to a better perspective.

Good leaders create other leaders. When the boss goes on vacation it can be an opportunity for others to stretch and show their mettle. Leave clear guidance about the dire circumstances under which contact should be initiated, leave an emergency number, and then disconnect the electronic tether. The next challenge for the boss is to react gracefully when the stand-ins make less than optimal decisions.

By George Reed

 |  August 11, 2009; 7:32 AM ET
Category:  Leadership personalities Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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As always sir, your comments are prescient and insightful. As a former, soldier and leader, who trained under the writer, I can tell you this lesson is learned through experience.

Reading Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now and I found he too talks about the way we let the clock and on the macro scale calendar control out lives. Rest, relaxation and recharging are integral components of living life fully.

Like Faulkner wrote "Clocks slay time...time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time truly come to life."

Now I struggle to unplug, disconnect with time and busyness - so I can connect with people and truly live life. Thanks for explaining pretty succintly what its taken me a lifetime to learn.

Posted by: silversurf4 | August 12, 2009 1:18 AM
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When you make a mistake you own it. I'm pro love, so make love on vacation. That's being pro vacation, so stay an extra month or two. The office will be there when you get back. With technology the office can be at 6K feet. You need sats for that sort of adventure. Few seats and lots of sats. Some people just can't mix business and pleasure. The emergency number is One. Speed dial.

Posted by: Dermitt | August 11, 2009 9:30 AM
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