Look at you–entrepreneur of the year. You’re smart. You’re successful. You’re in control. You’re swamped. You’re exhausted.
You need to take a step back. Stop, and just leave your startup alone for a while. I suggest you take a three-month vacation this year.
Is this the worst advice of the century, or is there any wisdom behind this advice?
Most of my advice is for the entrepreneur, not his or her business. Common sense tells us that we need to take the occasional vacation. Refreshing, mind-clearing, inspiring . . . all that is great. We get that.
But what about this business itself? A vacation isn’t just a one-way street. Your departure as an entrepreneur has an impact upon your business, not just yourself.
Not only do you need a vacation, but your business needs you to take a vacation. A nice, long three-month vacation. Here’s why:
How do you strengthen a muscle? You make it work. You make it push heavy objects around.
How do you strengthen a startup business? You make it work.
If you remain at your startup, then you are relieving the startup of a lot of work. You work hard–really hard. You’re bearing part of the responsibility. Logically, if you leave, then the business must support the extra weight.
When it does so, it will grow stronger.
While you’re sipping margaritas on a beach during your three-month hiatus, your startup is going to face some nasty problems. Don’t think about it. Just keep sipping the margarita.
So, what will the business do in the face of those nasty problems? They’re going to learn. Experience is the best teacher, so when team members face a perplexing, thorny, anxiety-inducing dilemma, they are going to think, work, strategize, and solve that problem.
Guess what? They’re going to learn. They might even learn more about the business than you. Most importantly, they will learn how to function without the constant presence of their founder.
That’s good for them and you.
Your absence is good for your team members.
Why? Because they’ll stop relying on you to make decisions for them. When you start a company, you want to take a proactive approach in shaping its direction and making those decisions.
But every decision you make is a decision you take away from someone else. Your other team members need to be invested with decision-making authority, too.
The more authority you give team members, they better they will mature as leaders and decision-makers. It’s an awesome thing to behold. You can groom leaders by mentoring them and meeting with them, but you can groom leaders better and faster by handing over the reins and then leaving.
You’ll probably be amazed by what you see. Even though you fear taking a vacation, you’ll probably come back and breathe a sigh of relief. The business will be humming along, earning money, serving clients, and empowering the people who run it–including you.
Don’t buy your ticket yet. Now that I’ve just persuaded you to leave it all and live in Acapulco for three months, I’m going to offer a few cautions.
I’ve read the horror stories. A CEO takes a five-week vacation to Italy, comes back and finds his COO trying to oust him and the company near bankruptcy.
How do you avoid such awful risks?
Be open with your team about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. “It’s for your own good” is probably not the right thing to say, but you get the idea.
Be sure you have enough personnel to accommodate for your departure. An employee of the company–a pretty significant one, or yours truly–is going to leave. Who is going to pick up the slack?
Everyone who will be affected by your absence should also understand why you’re doing it. Be transparent, and be honest.
If you want to avoid ruining your company with your departure, then you need someone you can trust. Entrepreneur puts it this way: “A CEO has to have a second in command that they trust with their life.”
I want to affirm that statement. You’re giving someone your baby. You need someone who is competent, responsible, and has your best interests at heart.
Be careful with the cash. Use some forward-thinking strategy, and hand out the plastic only to the few people who need to use it. Hint: It’s less people than you think.
When the cat is away, the mice will play. If you’ve done the right kind of hiring and shaped the right kind of culture, you won’t have to worry about frolicking mice. As much as I want to recommend you be a trusting person, I also recommend you be a cautious person.
Do not remain tethered to your business. This is vacation, not a remote work situation.
That being said, there might be some rare situations in which your input is needed. It’s up to you to define what those situations are and why someone might need to call you. I recommend having a phone number, available to only one person, that can be used in case of an emergency.
But what is an emergency? That’s up to you to decide. Don’t leave the definition up to the imagination. Instead, explain: “You may only contact me if the business is about to fold,” or something along those lines.
You need to appoint key leaders, and also tell them what kind of decisions they can make.
The more authority you give them, the more likely they are to live up to your expectations. Explain in clear terms what kind of decisions they are authorized for, and that you will support those decisions.
“Okay, I’ll leave. But three months? Heck, no!”
I get it. You’re skeptical about the three-month leave?
Three months is a long time. There are plenty of things–good and bad–that can happen in that span of time.
I’m willing to predict the longer you stay away–within reason–the more you’ll enjoy the benefits. Strength, wisdom, flourishing–all those upsides will continue to accrue while you’re away. Why would you want to stop it at a week or two?
The first month you’re gone, the team is just trying to gain their footing. They won’t begin to enjoy the benefits of your absence. The second month you’re gone, the real learning kicks in. They start to figure things out and function adequately. The third month you’re gone, learning kicks into high gear. What used to be insurmountable obstacles are now routine.
Three months, and you’ve reached a point where it’s safe to come back home.
Every startup is different. Every entrepreneur is different. Every situation demands its own set of considerations.
Most of the time, however, an entrepreneur should be able to leave the startup for a while, and expect it to grow.
Have you tried taking a three-month vacation from your startup? What did you learn, and how did your business do?