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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 8/19/13

August 19, 2013 Dr. Jayne No Comments

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During the last month or so, I took a little vacation from Twitter. I found it was taking up too much of my day and I never had enough time to follow up on things I wanted to read, which was annoying.

I’ve been easing back into it this week – culling the list of people I follow, making sure that I’m not just seeing a bunch of noise, etc. I had to unfollow some people I really liked because of the sheer volume of things they retweet from others that really weren’t things I wanted to read.

It’s hard to find the right mix of news and entertainment without being overloaded. This tweet from Jonathan Bush’s account caught my eye, as did the associated article

The first thing that struck me is it didn’t sound like the Jonathan we’re used to hearing. It was calm, low-key, and didn’t have his usual push of speech. Whether it’s actually from his keyboard though doesn’t matter as much as the content.

The title of the piece is “Stepping Away, So Others Can Step Up.” I agree with his premise. It’s important for leaders to be able to trust their teams enough to step away. A strong team will run well with the leader absent because its members understand what needs to be done and have the skills to accomplish those tasks. They will have been given clear direction from above and will be ready to execute it.

Each time I see the “when the cat’s away the mice will play” phenomenon, I know there are likely to be problems with the team dynamic. Members may resent the leadership or not understand the roles they’re supposed to be playing. They may have been running on empty and stressed out by their leader and use the opportunity of his or her absence to decompress. Alternatively, there may be issues with succession planning and lack of clarity of who is supposed to lead in the leader’s absence. Managers may have been given pieces of a larger task but are unsure how they fit together or who is actually in charge.

The best leaders I’ve ever worked with made sure they had multiple trusted team members who could mind the store when they were gone. With this strategy, each of us knew that if we were the one temporarily in charge, we had others to rely on who would support our efforts.

The worst leaders I’ve worked with had a tendency to either alienate their direct reports or to ignore infighting among them. This creates an unstable and often unproductive atmosphere when the leader is away.

Another phenomenon I see too much of lately is people who have a trustworthy team but are afraid to step away. Some corporate cultures don’t place appropriate value on allowing employees to rest and recharge. I worked with one service line director who now works at a health system where he is afraid to take all of his vacation time each year because he feels leadership will view him as weak. The hospital has been through several restructuring efforts and most of the upper level management is afraid to be away lest they miss the beginnings of another round of house cleaning.

This is the same facility where staffers are welded to email day and night. If they don’t keep up with the daily spin cycle of news, they are considered “behind” when they walk in the office door in the morning. When the leaders don’t know how to stop working in the evenings, it makes it hard for the staff to draw boundaries.

In the most recent round of layoffs at this hospital, managers were not permitted to choose who on their teams to keep and who might be “made available to the workforce.” Those decisions were handled by consultants. The resulting culture of fear will likely destabilize the facility for many months to come and may also result in the departures of smart people who don’t want to be around when it happens again.

I hope each of you has the opportunity to work for a hospital, company, or leader who values time away. If you have that privilege, take advantage of it and enjoy every minute away. If you don’t work in that kind of environment, consider being a positive agent for change. There are likely others who believe in the value of stepping away and there might be an opportunity to make a difference.

As for Jonathan, if he ever needs a volunteer physician to help look after that “large family of kids and cousins,” he knows where to find me. I’m handy at putting elbows back in place after games of sibling tug-of-war and can remove an errant fish hook in nothing flat. I’ve never attended a clambake, but there’s always time to learn.

What do you think about taking time away? Email me.

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