Leadership doesn’t take vacations

© The Bees Knees Photo

© The Bees Knees Photo

Last week, I was supposed to be on vacation. I planned to spend my days reading good books, hanging out with my loved ones, getting plenty of rest, and doing everything except working. It was just what I needed after a busy few months on the road. But then I got a call from my team, and all those plans went out the window. 

We’re in the middle of our busiest time of year at Student Maid: It’s move-out season, and my company is responsible for cleaning hundreds of empty college apartments with extremely tight turnarounds. You might be wondering why I’d take a vacation during our craziest time of year, and rightfully so. Well, my goal with Student Maid has always been to build a company that can run without me. If anything were to happen to me, I would want Student Maid to live on. I’ve spent years training people and putting systems in place to make sure I’m not a required piece in the move-out season equation, and I haven’t been in a long time. I thought this year would be no different.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that leadership isn’t always convenient. Just because you’ve planned a vacation doesn’t mean you get to fully take it.

My team got extremely overwhelmed this year and I knew they needed my help. I was a thousand miles away, so I did everything I could from afar: I hopped on late-night calls, video-conferenced with them throughout the day, and spent ten hours calculating payroll. I can’t even tell you the last time I had to do payroll.

Did I want to do any of this stuff? Not really. Was I resentful that I was doing it? At times, yes. Was the work beneath my job title? Absolutely. I could have just given the team a pep talk and continued on with my vacation. Why, then, did I choose to help instead?

I chose to help because I believe our world has a leadership problem. I believe we have too many leaders who are unwilling to show up for their people when it matters most. And as someone who employs future leaders, I am aware of the tremendous opportunity I have to set a positive example. But I also chose to help because I know that my actions have a huge ripple effect in my company. I know that if I step up when my team needs me, the message I’m sending is that they should step up when their teammates need them. It’s contagious.

I wasn’t the only one on Student Maid’s executive team to do work outside my job description last week. Monique, our Chief of Growth, jumped in to help and ended up cleaning apartments until two in the morning one night. As Chief of Growth, Monique’s job is not to clean. Her job is to make sure our vision as a company is clear and that we have a solid strategic plan in place to help us reach it. But just like I knew the team needed me, she knew they needed her. So, Monique chose to drop what she was doing and show up for the team.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t ask Monique to do that. In fact, I told her that if push came to shove, I didn’t want her cleaning. But she chose to do it anyway. Why? I like to think because she knew I would have done the same. And because she also knew that doing so would inspire others on our team to follow her example in the future. We can’t ask the people we lead to go above and beyond if we’re not willing to go above and beyond ourselves.

We all have a chance to step up. And it’s the decision we make in that moment that determines whether we’ll inspire those around us to lead or not.

The next time you have the chance, what will you do?

Big hugs,