I have long worked in an environment where presence is vital to meaningful contribution and the number of hours we put in is used as a metric of performance (e.g., if Johnny is here 18 hours a day, he must be vital to our mission). I still believe that presence is important, but I have never believed that one had to be present to contribute; nor do I believe that a constant presence is healthy to the long term health of the organization or the people belonging to it. In fact, I believe that visible absence is an important metric when measuring team health and the impact of the leader.

Last month, I took a week off of work to enjoy some time with my bride. I have been working quite a bit over the last 18 months and we used our anniversary as a good reason to put life on pause for a while. While out of the office, I didn’t check-in or check-up on things. My ‘right hand man’, our Executive Officer, did send me a few updates and voicemails just in case someone from outside our immediate team contacted me with questions. The reason I did not check-up on the team has to do with one thing…trust. I have worked with few people as competent as the leader who is our 2nd in command and taking time away from my bride to check-in on things would have been unfair to him, the team as a whole, my bride, and myself. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in what was happening, but it was an acknowledgement that they did not need me. I have long believed that leaders who monitor their team from afar or ask for regular updates are missing an opportunity to send a message of trust and unintentionally undermine the confidence the team has in itself.

Earlier this week, I took one morning off. Instead of heading into work, I went to see the new Star Wars movie with my family. Yes, there was work that needed to be done and I missed a few meetings, but leaders who tell others to make family a priority without demonstrating through action that they are committed to the same are doing everyone a disservice. Creating a memory with the fanatical Star Wars fans that are my wife and son, and sharing in their excitement was something I could not miss (note: I do like Star Wars, but they love it…my son actually teared up as the movie started). I went to the movies without hesitation because I knew the team was more than capable of executing the plan of the day without me there, and I could stay late to catch up, if necessary.

At one point this week, I asked a leader on our team not to attend a meeting that he normally leads. I asked him to leave work early that same day. I told him that he needed to be both visibly absent from work and more visibly present with his family. Admittedly, he was initially perplexed with the request and the former was tougher for him than the latter.

Most of us are strongly committed to our profession and the accomplishment of our mission. Sometimes we are so committed that we involve ourselves in things that we shouldn’t, we do the jobs of our juniors, and we burn ourselves out in the process. Over the years, I have been guilty of inserting myself in things that I shouldn’t. I do so because I have strong opinions, am committed to enabling the intended outcome, and don’t like seeing opportunities pass people by. I’d like to think that such a commitment makes me a good team player, but I also know that I need to make it a point to see what happens when I am not involved. I need to allow others to benefit from opportunities that my visible absence affords. As much as leaders enjoy being present, a team that requires their leader to be present is not a strong team. As leaders, your job is to lead your team and the impact you are having is not measured by what happens when you are there, but by what happens when you are not there. I firmly believe that the value I bring as a leader is not measured by what happens during my tour, but what the team accomplishes after I move on to the next challenge. And I need to be visibly absent on a regular basis if we are to reach our potential as a team.

  • Are you comfortable being visibly absent?
  • What happens when you are not there?
  • How/When will you assess the impact of your leadership?