Trust me. Business travel isn’t always glamourous.
Two domestic flights; two international flights; one 6:00am departure; two 4-hour layovers; three different time zones … and that’s just been the last 5 days.
Now whilst I mastered the art of being able to work productively in any airport lounge or at any departure gate a long time ago, I have to admit that there are also times when sometimes I just like to sit back and people watch.
This week I’ve traveled through two of the world’s busiest airports – Tokyo and Los Angeles so I’ve experienced ‘people watching on steroids’.
And one thing became very clear. There are far too many highly anxious (not to mention overly controlling) managers or business owners (traveling) out there in the big wide world.
How can I possibly make this claim?
I can honestly say that this week I would have heard literally hundreds of people on calls waiting at airport check-in counters; in immigration queues (even when the signs clearly prohibit the use of mobile phones); in security lines; in airport lounges (or food courts); at departure gates; and of course on the planes right up until the moment the front door is closed and then from the moment the wheels of the plane hit the runway …
Gosh there was even one guy having a full on rant while running a team conference call from inside a toilet cubicle at LAX!
If they weren’t raising their voices on the actual calls, then they were huffing and puffing and letting their frustrations or anxiety out on the people around them (many of whom they didn’t even know!).
Probably not the best trait for any business leader to be displaying in public.
So I thought I’d share a few observations (based on some of the conversations I’ve overheard in the last few days) for anyone wanting to join the ranks of these highly-strung and anxious traveling managers.
1. Assume control of every team meeting
Even if it means you dial in and pull rank from an airport toilet cubicle!
Have you ever thought about delegating the responsibility of chairing or facilitating a meeting to other members of the team in your absence?
As a manager, you don’t have to sit at the head of the table for every single meeting. Believe it or not some meetings have even been known to run successfully when the leader isn’t present.
If you’re away on business, why shouldn’t a regular team meeting still take place? Give other team members the opportunity to put an agenda together, to chair the meeting, and to report back to you on any matters that might require escalation.
You might even want to put a chairperson roster together when you are in the office, so that if you’re traveling there’s no question that meetings can still go ahead (without you).
Abusing your team on a conference call from an airport toilet across the country will really do wonders for your credibility.
Maybe his team thought he was visiting a client at Niagara Falls with all those flushing noises going on in the background!
2. Never praise … Just criticize
Another way to guarantee ‘control-freak’ status.
Simply rattling off a list of clients lost, projects not completed, or targets not achieved will ensure that your team think you never see the good in anything.
Even if you are traveling or for whatever reason pressed for time, make sure you devote time to recognise the efforts and achievements in your team.
Rest assured your team all know how important targets and budgets are. But sometimes they won’t be met so you should look for other individual or team accomplishments that you can talk about.
Remember you have a responsibility as a leader to make your team members feel respected, trusted and valued.
3. Let your inner micromanager shine
Better yet – be a clock-watcher and question your team’s every move.
Look over everyone’s shoulder to find out what they’re up to rather than trusting them to bring you up to speed when you do catch up with them individually. And while you’re at it, delete the word ‘empower’ from your lexicon.
If you want a demotivated team, or a team who tense up every time you walk into the office, then micromanaging is the way to go.
And if you don’t give your team members some freedom and autonomy (even if it means they stuff up from time to time), then you are really nothing more than that one mean babysitter we all had once or twice when Mum and Dad went out.
4. Never explain ‘why’
There was one guy standing behind me in the immigration line who literally rattled off a list of tasks to some poor soul on the other end of the phone for about 10 minutes.
He hardly drew a breath.
There was no context behind any of his instructions; no reasons why. It was just rapid-fire delegation.
This guy probably thought delegating tasks would make the person he was speaking to feel empowered.
Here’s a hint: Not if you just dictate a to-do list.
For a team member to feel empowered (and trusted), they don’t just need to know what to do; they want (and need) to know why they’re doing it … and where their task fits into the bigger picture.
Then they might feel a sense of personal accomplishment.
Oh that’s right. But you don’t want them to feel accomplished, since that might mean you’re losing control.
5. Never leave the office
And for bonus points, when you are in the office, keep your door closed!
Sorry to keep coming back to the LAX toilet cubicle guy. But I actually heard him say “Is this just yet another case of ‘when the cat’s away …?”
Who was he kidding here?
Sure a paranoid manager might believe that ‘the mice’ will play in his or her absence. But from personal experience I can tell you that when I used to travel a lot, I know there were times when my team was even more productive when I was out of the office.
It’s not that they weren’t effective when I was around, but they were all mature and very good at what they did, and just got into a different groove. They may have taken a few slightly longer lunch breaks, or maybe even left a bit earlier than normal some days (shock horror … lock all the doors!) but nothing ever slipped through cracks.
You might even want to try not calling the office every day when you’re away on business!
Your blood pressure is probably rising just thinking about that crazy idea.