Leadership Is Never On Vacation
Things did not start out great.
Although we had directions to reach the cottage, we did not take the time to plan our route, thinking that the most direct road would suffice. However, because of traffic and congestion, we had to take an alternate, unplanned itinerary.
We didn't have a GPS to help us, but there was a map in one of the cars. We didn't realize until much later that the map was too old and was no longer an accurate representation of the road layout. Still, we were on our respective cell phones, trying to figure out what exits to take in order to reach our final destination more quickly. We did not agree, but did not take a brief moment to stop and consult each other by the side of the road. Instead we kept plodding ahead, sensing we were heading in the correct direction, but not really confident about our choices.
An outside observer would have laughed at the situation: The couple in the front car had the map, but no idea where they were headed. The couple in the rear car had no map, but had an idea about where to go. The driver in the rear car was trying to tell the passenger in the front car what to look for on the map, in order to find their way.
Then came a fork in the road: The lead car took an exit because the driver was following the outdated map; the second car kept going straight, because the driver followed the road signs. This caused confusion, delays, and some frayed nerves on both sides.
In the end, both cars reached their destination, although it was definitely not as smooth and straightforward as it should have been.
So, how was that vacation trip similar to leading a team?
If the warning signs become too numerous, it may be time to slow down, or even stop to re-evaluate your position.
Technology is supposed to help us communicate better but it can actually impede communication. Face-to-face communication takes more time and effort but provides you with valuable information you cannot get otherwise: body language and tone of voice.
Similar situations often occur in the workplace: the manager who wants the team to work overtime, but who comes in late or takes long lunches; the manager who tells people to lead a balanced life, yet works 12 hour days and never takes a vacation; the manager who asks for feedback, but flies off the handle if the feedback is negative. Leadership is effective only if the leader walks the talk.
-- projects where there isn't a clear business outcome;
-- projects where there is no clear plan to a finished product;
-- projects that fail because people are unable to communicate and understand each other;
-- projects that fail because the actors are so busy moving forward that they don't have the time to step back and see if they are headed in the right direction.
We had a bit of a shaky start to our vacation but, all in all, we had a very good time and we would do it again in a heartbeat.
Similarly, all projects do not go exactly according to plan. You can make it smoother by having a clear vision of your goal, by communicating it to your team, and by being willing and able to lead them through the rough spots.
In a few years, you'll be able to look back upon the experience and enjoy it just like a vacation trip to your cottage.
Laurent Duperval is the president of Duperval Consulting, which helps individuals and companies improve people-focused communication processes. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 514-902-0186.