Deliberate Unplugging

Photo by functoruser


Yesterday, Peter Bergman wrote a post on the blog titled The Mostly Unplugged Vacation. Bergman describes a phenomenon I am sure many of you are familiar with. Our connectivity and workaholism. He describes the expectancy that developed in our world from people to be available all the time for almost any reason. Worse, as he says, people have been starting to expect it from themselves. It is a worthy and interesting post as are comments about his proposed solutions. However, I took one paragraph in a different direction. Here is what he writes about coming back from a vacation one time:

When I returned to civilization — and a phone — I had over 50 messages. But here’s what I found most interesting: the first half of the messages all raised problems that needed to be resolved and the second half were the same people telling me not to worry about the first half because they had resolved the problems on their own. It turns out that unplugging created an opportunity for my team to grow, develop, and exercise their own judgment.

Sounds familiar? For me it did, as it echoes things I have been constantly writing about here. Resisting the temptation to give answers allows people to find the solutions themselves and as a result grow. Letting go of the control, allows people to exercise their own judgment and make wise decisions.

I used to give workshops about leadership (which I now prefer to call management) in the Israeli Air Force. One of the models I taught was that of the Full Range of Leadership developed by Bernard M. Bass. The basic idea is that every leader exerts many types of behaviors that are all effective depending on the situation, the followers and the time. The behaviors are placed on a range from very active (which is called Transformational Leadership) to very passive behaviors called Laissez-Faire after the famous economic term. The idea that sometimes the most effective leadership behavior is disengagement and doing nothing was always hard for the participants of the workshop to grasp.

Sometimes deliberately unplugging is the right course of action. It is just what our team or employees need. We don’t have to go on a vacation to do that (even though that could be a good test of other issues). We can do that every day in small issues that slowly gather up to become major issues. By deliberately not being there for our employees, we might actually be there for them, by allowing them to stand on their own.

How do you use deliberate unplugging in your everyday management style?


2 Responses to “Deliberate Unplugging”

  1. Randy Zwitch Says:

    Excellent article. I have no employees, but I’m constantly managing my co-workers and upper management who always “need” me to quantitatively prove a qualitative statement they made in a meeting (where I wasn’t in attendance). It’s amazing how co-dependency develops; once you’ve provided answers in the past that correct their view of a business problem, they stop thinking about the problem themselves, and come to expect that you’ll just answer the problem for them!

    The one thing I’ve been struggling with is how to balance ‘letting people find their own answers’ with ‘he’s ignoring me’ or ‘he’s not keeping up with his work’. Do you have any tips for determining when you’re letting things get too out of control?

  2. sherfelad Says:

    Hey Randy,
    I think I know what you mean. You have to asses where it is your job to deliver a service for a customer (even an internal one) and when it is something you are doing to help someone, but it becomes a burden on you. If the later is the case, there are a number of tactics you can use in order to make sure you plug out. I think the best way is to sit with the person and explain what it means for you when he asks you and ask him how can both of you find a way to help him without burdening you. I think you will be surprised by two things: 1. The other side is not aware that he is “hacking” on your time, it seems trivial for him/her that you do it. 2. There are a lot of creative ways that will satisfy both of you, while not hurting the operations and results.
    Hope that helps,

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