Who's Minding the Store?

Foster a good manager, and you won't have to worry about spending time away from your business.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the August 2002 issue of . Subscribe »

There's an old saw that goes something like this: "While the cat's away, the mice will play." It's cute, but it doesn't have to be true. We prefer to think this way: "While the boss is away, the employees will work even greater miracles." Now, if you think that's true, can you prove it?

Let's consider the case of one of our clients, who owns a business that could best be described as seasonal. Not seasonal in the sense of a ski resort, or even in terms of retailers that are heavily dependent on the year-end holiday season. This business is more similar to greeting card manufacturers. The business is active all year but has several very significant spikes--specifically the end of each calendar quarter, especially December and June.

Well, guess where our client was at the end of June this year? Laying on the beach at Waikiki, more concerned about his tan than his business. OK, maybe that's a stretch. But he is confident enough in his managers and the clarity of his policies and instructions that he is able to be far from home base even when business is going strong. Oh yes, he does occasionally call in to ask a few questions, the answers to which tell him to stay away longer or get on the first plane home.

It's your time away from the business that tells you whether you have good managers and employees--and, frankly, whether you're a good boss yourself. Dan and I don't think you're a very good boss if you can't or won't trust your managers and employees to get the work done while you're away. As our readers know, we are huge fans of the Marine Corps and its leadership effectiveness. We tend to think of managers as officers in the Marines. In a battlefield situation, a Marine officer would never keep all the mission plans locked in a safe to which only he had the combination. That Marine officer would make sure that others in the line of command had every piece of information that would enable a junior officer or enlisted Marine to take command in the event of the senior officer's incapacity or death.

What if you're an absentee owner? You have some unique concerns to consider.

And this is where your time away from the business discloses your leadership. Have you entrusted your managers with the information necessary to complete the current projects in your absence? If you can answer that question with an honest yes, you are a leg up on many other business owners--not only because you know the answer, but, even more important, because your managers and employees know the answer. You trust them when you're away. What greater tribute to you and to them?

Now, back to the questions our client asks when he's away. Actually, there's usually only one question. If he doesn't like the answer to that one question, vacation over. He never asks "Have you done this or have you done that?" He assumes they have and instead asks "What was the result of this or the result of that?" If the manager says he or she hasn't gotten to it yet, he finds out why not and realizes it's time to return. But usually, the answer is something like "We completed the project and are now working on." Because he is clear with his policies and his project-specific instructions and because he has great earned trust between his managers and himself, he spends a lot of time at the beach.

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.

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