As leaders, we think we have to be available for our people 24/7. But disconnecting from my team turned out to be the best thing I could do for them.
The first time I went on vacation while leading my company, I was about to take off on a plane when disaster struck at Student Maid. I couldn’t answer my team’s frantic calls and texts because the flight attendants were giving me the stink eye--I had no choice but to power down my phone. By the time we landed, I thought my company would be in ruins (literally: I thought it was on fire). But instead, I was shocked to see texts from my team that said, “Nevermind! We figured it out! :)” It turns out that they didn’t need me after all. They were perfectly capable of solving the crisis themselves--I had just never given them the chance to try before. The best part was that my team was proud of themselves for handling the situation all on their own.
After that, I started to disconnect more frequently and make myself less available.
I didn’t totally abandon my team, of course, but I started letting their calls go to voicemail more often. Nine times out of 10, they had figured out a solution to whatever the problem was by the time I called them back. And each time, the result was the same: They were proud because they proved to themselves that they didn’t need me after all.
Today, we arm our team members with the knowledge that as long as their decisions align with our core values, they should feel free to solve problems that come up on the job on their own. If they do call us and ask for help, we ask them to present us with two solutions of their own first. This has two main benefits: The first, of course, is that the team members learn to be self-reliant. They realize that they are capable of being their own heroes. The second is that it allows our executive team to disconnect more often. While we still have someone on call 24/7 just in case, our on-call phone remains mostly silent. Our executive team doesn’t feel like they have to be glued to their phones or computers every second, which means they can spend more time talking with our team members face-to-face.
That’s the last piece of this puzzle: We are very intentional about face time at Student Maid. And by “face time,” I mean real, honest-to-goodness, in-person conversation. When team members come by our office to pick up and drop off supplies, we make it a point to stop what we’re doing and chat with them. We encourage our team members to strike up conversations with each other while they’re working and really try to get to know each other better. It’s all part of our effort to build strong relationships within our company, which helps people feel happy, supported, connected, and valued at work.
Kristen Hadeed is the founder at Student Maid, as well as a highly regarded speaker and author of Permission to Screw Up. Learn more about her on LinkedIn.