The Absent Entrepreneur

Article by:
Eric Keiles EO Philadelphia
Michele Hecken
EO Edmonton

Michèle is the CEO of Alpha Translations Canada, Inc., a global translation agency that has been providing expert translation, language and cultural consulting services to international companies worldwide for more than 15 years. E-mail Michèle at [email protected].

Once again, I am traveling, and once again, I am reluctant to leave. Too many things are going on in my company: aggressive growth plans, hiring four additional sales people, implementing new technology … why did I think it was a good time to go on a lengthy business trip?

I will be gone for two weeks, and I know the company needs my leadership more than ever. Just as I felt like a bad mom when I left my kids to visit with clients, I now feel like a terrible leader for abandoning my team, wondering if this trip will bring the desired return on my investment and time. Emotions aside, I know traveling is a necessary part of my role as an entrepreneur. Getting away helps me recharge my batteries, and more importantly, it provides me with ample opportunities to strengthen both my team and my performance as a business leader.

When I travel for business, it’s a chance for my team to step up to the plate and show me what they’re capable of. Furthermore, it forces me to streamline my communication channels, an important step in ensuring everything runs smoothly without me. On average, I travel about seven or eight months out of the year. Before I depart for each trip, I follow certain rules that help set my team up for success in my absence. Here are some of the steps I take before and after I embark on business travel:

  • Maintain continuity. I set reporting structures and processes in my absence. Daily huddles, regardless of my location, are a must to ensure effective communication with my team.

  • Stay transparent. I share the company’s annual plan and targets with the entire staff, and I make it a point to update them if anything changes while I’m on the road.

  • Stick to goals. Quarterly goals are themed so everyone knows where we are going and can work toward it in my absence. I don’t micromanage from afar. Instead, I try to coach and create incentives so everyone owns their outcomes for the team.

  • Leverage technology. All of our numbers are reported daily and are visible on our online portal. This allows me to have an up-to-the-minute overview of how my business is doing at any time— a helpful tool when I’m negotiating with clients.

  • Stay focused. I never check my e-mails more than once a day. I don’t want to get sucked into the everyday chaos of business life while I’m looking at the big picture or meeting with clients.

  • Give freedom. I try to be clear in communicating my desired outcomes for all projects, and then let my employees get creative with them. My job is the “what,” not the “how.”

  • Trust staff. I rely on my COO to be my proxy while I’m away. She takes care of operations, coaches the team and only contacts me when she’s stuck or needs my opinion.

  • In the end, I have found that discipline breeds freedom when it comes to setting up my team before—and while—I’m on the road. It takes a lot of work to prepare everyone properly, but it’s worth it. Staying in constant communication with my employees not only helps the company, but it allows my team to be independent in their endeavors. When it comes down to it, my employees are the real reason why I get to travel for business and do I what I love. Giving them a chance to shine while I’m on the go is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned.

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