June 14, 2007 by Paul Hogendoorn
This summer has taken far too long to arrive. I’m sure many feel that way every year, but this year it seems particularly true. It could be partly due to the sluggish arrival of nice spring weather, or it could be the tougher workload and more demanding schedule in the past year. The pressure to change, adapt, reduce and improve – in short, to compete – has intensified, along with rising energy costs, the increasing Canadian dollar, and the decreasing price targets dictated by competition from lower-cost regions. This year, more than ever, summer vacation will be a most welcome and very necessary break.
Summer vacation is a time to recharge the batteries and replenish the human spirit. But it is also a time to recreate yourself. And just like the old adage suggests, “a change is as good as a rest.”
Last summer, many people I spoke with were too busy to take any significant time off. Some delayed their break until the fall, while others took a shorter break than usual or no break at all. It is easy to understand that this is not good for your health or your family life, but it is also not good for your company or your work team. In these highly competitive times, they also need you at your best – not just replenished and restored, but also renewed, reignited and even recreated.
If there is one thing we should all have learned by now, it’s that we cannot simply expect our companies to keep doing the same things the same ways and remain financially healthy. Our companies have had to grow, change, improve and, in some cases, even recreate themselves. As a leader in your company, the same is true for you. You should not settle for simply getting rested and restored and then resuming your role the way you did the year before. Think about using your vacation as a time to recreate yourself; to come back with a fresh attitude and renewed enthusiasm, with higher aspirations for yourself and your company, and with new skills and new ideas about growing your staff, your business and yourself.
The last two summers I took it upon myself to make sure I read books that were enthusiastically recommended by colleagues and coworkers over the course of the previous year. I could not seem to make the time during the working year, so I made it a point to read at least one of them on my vacation. Last year I read the book From Good to Great by Jim Collins. The first page, with the opening assertion that “good is the enemy of great,” challenged all of my preconceived notions about what it took to be a great company. In the next couple of pages, the author not only proved that statement to me, he convinced me that striving to be a great company required no more effort than simply settling to be a good company. In fact, it often requires less effort. After having digested and accepted his arguments, I read the rest of the book eager to learn how to build my team into a great team, and my company into a great company. And the first thing the book taught was that before I could start to do these things, I had to do an inventory on myself, and possibly even recreate parts of myself as a leader.
The next paradigm-challenging assertion in the book was “first who, then what.” The next few chapters dealt with who should be on your team, paying close attention to their skills, attitudes and passions. It was only after requiring you to take an honest look at yourself as a leader, and then an equally honest assessment of your team, that the author then began to delve into what it is your company or organization actually does, and how it can get it done. Although that particular book was a great help to me in planning to succeed, and in renewing my motivation to do so, it might not be the book that you really need to read. Perhaps one has been recommended to you by someone who knows you well, and has some insights into your current situation or state of mind.
I recommend against simply running down to the local book store to pick up the first business book that has a topic of interest to you. Instead, seek out the book titles that your colleagues have recommended to you and read the first few pages. (It is a holiday after all, and if the book is as dry as salted crackers to you, you likely won’t finish it; and if you do, you won’t retain much.) Make sure you like the author’s writing style, and that the topic makes you want to read and learn more. And if none of your coworkers or colleagues have made any such suggestions, consider From Good to Great as my summer reading recommendation.
This summer, make sure you take a vacation. Take the time off and really get away – have a few campfires, sit at the beach, kick your feet up and read a good book. If you don’t think you can afford the time to take one, then you are really too busy not to take one.
Paul Hogendoorn is president of OES, Inc. and chair of the London Region Manufacturing Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the LRMC, visit www.manufacturinglondon.com.