In my association I try to make it as clear as possible. Vacation is for vacation. When you're on vacation there is no expectation that you can be reached. Go ahead, change your voicemail greeting and set up those automatic replies in your email. You're on vacation, and someone else can tend whatever fires need to be kept burning while you're gone.
Except I don't do that. I haven't changed my voicemail greeting or set up auto email replies for years. There is nothing to signal callers and senders that I'm on vacation (as I am this week) and that it may be a little while before they hear back from me. My vacation mode is to scan through my messages once a day and respond to anything that is either simple or urgent--often revealing in the reply that I am on vacation and setting up a time after my return to deal with a serious issue in more depth.
From my perspective, it goes with the job of being the CEO. A lot of rules are different at that level, and this is just one of them. Too often, CEOs are bottlenecks in their organizations anyway, decision-makers on whose word lots of other staff activity depends. If a quick response from me can keep a project moving--or give a volunteer the information he needs--I'd rather make myself available for it than have people sitting on their hands until I get back.
But what about disconnecting? Isn't it important, especially for CEOs, to give their minds a rest and experience something else that life has to offer? It is, and I do, albeit not for weeks at a time, but more frequently for an afternoon or an entire day between my message check-ins. And even if I keep a slow fire burning in the back of my mind on some work-related issue, I've discovered that I'm better able to think creatively about it because of the vacation experiences I'm having. The solutions to some challenges, after all, will never be found in the corner office.
So I'm okay with it. Some may call it working while on vacation, but I see it more as taking a vacation from my day-to-day routine. The one thing I worry about is whether my staff understands my perspective on this. As I said earlier, I do not expect them to take the same approach I do, but I can't help but realize that a leader leads more by his actions than by the words coming out of his mouth. If I truly want people to disconnect, wouldn't they be more likely to do that if they saw me doing it myself?
Or maybe I secretly don't want them disconnecting completely. Maybe they and the organization would be better off if they took the same approach I do--getting away and seeking out new experiences, but keeping enough of a connection to the affairs of the office to see perplexing problems in a new light and to find creative ways forward.
It's an interesting thought. Perhaps it's the thing I'll let percolate while on this vacation.
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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit www.ericlanke.blogspot.com, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.