Q: I own a five-person payroll service. I haven't taken a vacation in 11 years, and I don't see how I can leave my business for two weeks. Can you offer any suggestions?
A: Our first suggestion: Don't pass go-take a vacation immediately. We talk with so many small-business owners who brag about how indispensable they are and that they never take vacations. As a matter of fact, Rod used to be one of those guys. Until about 15 years ago, he never took more than a four-day break every once in a while. Now he takes three or four 10-day vacations a year. You should, too. If you're not taking time to unwind, you're setting a terrible example for your employees. Not taking a vacation is not a sign of an indispensable business owner; it's proof of an ineffective leader. It's the mark of an irritable boss with high employee turnover.
If you think you're vital to your business, imagine how the president of the United States must feel. Yet every one of them takes plenty of vacations. And nothing terrible ever happened to the "company" while they were relaxing on the beach. In our book, we speak about the leadership prowess of the U.S. Marine Corps. Guess what? Every Marine gets 30 days of paid vacation a year. And they're expected to take it-even in the middle of war. We've got it easy: Call a hotel, pack the bags and off we go.
You've got to prepare for that first vacation so you can really take it easy while you're sipping piña coladas on your Caribbean lounge chair. That you're afraid to take a vacation tells us you've been too active in the mundane day-to-day tasks of your business and have not allowed your employees to grow. If you're doing the same tasks as your employees, stop it immediately-you're the boss, the leader, the visionary.
You have to start by making sure you've adequately trained your employees to do their jobs. Then allow them to perform those responsibilities without you always looking over their shoulders. The Marines call it "lifeboat leadership." After employees have been trained to do their jobs, the supervisor makes work assignments and leaves them alone. But that leader will always be available to throw a life preserver if an employee gets in over his or her head. As your employees have more success and fewer failures, they will relish the more demanding challenges ahead-leaving you time to build your business.
If the thought of a two-week vacation scares you, let the first one be shorter, perhaps only five to eight days. And we can hardly think of a better time than now to get started. At this time of the year, you're not dealing with year-end payroll and payroll tax reports or a flood of new customers. You'll hardly be missed. The chance that your now-well-trained employees will encounter situations requiring that life preserver is remote.
However, we part company with many consultants on this next point: We believe the owner must always be reachable in the event of the unexpected. So give your employees a set of decision guidelines for when to reach you and when to leave you alone. And be sure to come home with a tan.
Rod Walsh and Dan Carrison are the founding partners of Semper Fi Consulting in Sherman Oaks, California and the authors of Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.