Leaders at leisure

As we approach the festive season, it seems to me that leaders need to understand the need for leisure time and self-renewal. I’m reminded of a recent TV advert. It opens on a funeral service and a eulogy. The speaker describes the deceased as a workaholic. His immediate family are sitting in the front pew, unmoved and unimpressed. The camera pans back to the ‘spirit’ of the deceased businessman, who looks directly at the camera and agrees that that wasn’t much of a life. In a ‘Groundhog Day’ sequence, the eulogy changes until it hits the right mark – the man finally found balance in his life. When the camera pans back, the man has ‘ascended’. It’s a timeous reminder to all leaders leading pressured, demanding lives to strike the balance, and find ways to cultivate downtime and leisure.

And by leisure, I don’t mean deals brokered on a golf course – there’s pressure there (your swing and the deal) – and I don’t necessarily mean a brief holiday in December. Although that helps, but more about that later.

I mean that, within the daily duties that each leader faces, time must be made to break away, step back from the cauldron, press the pause button, and grant others permission to take on some of that dutiful load.

Dr Helen Rothberg, an executive coach and professor in the school of management at Marist College, offers valuable insight in how to absolve yourself of some of the pressures and demands of the job, without diluting your leadership role.

One of her insights is that ‘brilliance resides where you least expect it’. She recommends ‘asking questions beyond defined job roles’, looking beyond the limits of departmental habits and practices. Loosening things up a bit, because ‘keeping in your insulated worlds can limit you at the workplace; find opportunities in other departments to use the breadth of what you can do.’ So, when you’re burdened, take a walkabout, pop into a variety of departments, and ask for help.

Give yourself permission to fail. I bang this drum often. Failure is never failure; it’s a learning and growth opportunity. Acknowledge your mistakes and move forward graciously. You’ll be amazed at how liberating this is for your team.

Rothberg also recommends regular walkabouts – in this we are kindred spirits. ‘Leave your desk’, she advises, ‘and [listen in on] informal conversation among employees in a relaxed setting.’ You’ll learn a lot from these spontaneous conversations. ‘Engage in more at your company than just your office. Join task forces, volunteer at organisations the company supports, do something as simple as go to lunch with a co-worker. You never know where concerns and good ideas can be heard and travel upward.’

Along with the walk comes the talk – talk to everyone from the cleaning staff to the executives – everyone has an insight, a lesson to share, a lightbulb moment. And more than that, talking to your staff informally, and taking an interest in their lives beyond work, outside the constraints of the boardroom, is a very clear demonstration that you care. In the new year, I’ll be talking to smaller groups of people, in various divisions, getting a sense of their ideas, because it’s often the small, incremental things that can make a big difference.

Learn to devolve and abdicate some of your power occasionally. When I stepped down as Redefine’s CEO, it freed up time for me to go to the meetings I want to go to, where I can input and make a real difference.

And then, take a holiday. A proper holiday. Give yourself over completely to the rhythms of your family life. As I am no longer bound by school holidays, I use December to drive around and take a look at our properties – yes, it might sound like work, but I get a real kick out of seeing the busy malls, and getting a sense of what kind of improvements can be made.

My wife, Lesley, and I have discovered the joys of hotel hopping in Jozi in December. When our staff go on leave, we take up a suite at a number of hotels, for a few days at a time, and it feels like we’ve been away forever. Long, lazy lunches and fat tomes – usually memoirs – are my pleasure. And people-watching! The theatre of real life is surprisingly relaxing!

Do something new each year, if you can. Never drink and drive. Here’s to 2018!

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