Where’s Waldo?

An old New Yorker cartoon depicts two men walking down the streets of Manhattan. “The think I like most about being the Boss is that you get to make your own hours.” one says. “Yes,” the other replies, “as long as you don’t mind 24 hours a day.”

The time commitment of owning a business is one of the biggest complaints of owners. It is so prevalent that I made it the first item on my Business Owners’ Rights satirical labor poster. When I work with entrepreneurs on their goals and objectives, “Less time in the business” is usually one of the owner’s top priorities.

Time is simultaneously the biggest burden and the biggest reward of being a boss. As an owner, your time is both more and less flexible than that of your employees. You schedule vacations when you wish and without limit, but only when the business permits you to be absent. You can leave early, if there isn’t something pressing in your company that requires you to stay late. You can go to the gym at lunch time, if you get to take a lunch break at all.

For most owners, the business consumes so much of our personal time that we have little guilt about the personal time we take during business hours. That’s fair, and it is small enough reward in relation to the total commitment your company requires.

Yet many owners worry about the message they are sending to employees when they are absent. “Do they think I’m home watching television?” “Do they know that I’m in a long business meeting, trying to land a customer who will pay their salaries for a month?” An owner’s concern about the business can become paranoia about always sending the right message, and always being the example for others to follow.

In reality, most employees are more concerned about doing their job than where you are at the moment. When I call a business and ask for the owner, the answer is frequently “He’s not here right now.” In such cases, I’ll ask (for both of our convenience) “Do you know when he will be back?” Unless I’m speaking with the boss’ assistant, the response is almost always negative. The employees don’t know where he (or she) is, what he is doing, or when he will return. When you are gone, you are gone. When you are there, you are there.

You might be playing golf, but perhaps it is with a key vendor. You might be calling on a customer, or buying a new piece of equipment, or attending your kid’s school play. They don’t know, and they don’t think about it much. You are the boss, and if you are a good leader, the employees assume you are doing something that you should be doing.

There is one exception that I coach against. Some owners choose to exercise their control over time by coming in late every day. I believe that is a problem. Chronic lateness is a punishable offense in all but the most relaxed organizations. It is by definition “bad behavior.” The employees naturally assume that you were just sleeping later than they were.

Most importantly, a boss who starts his or her day an hour or more after the employees effectively creates a second starting time for each day. The first hour becomes “ramp up” time. Everyone can get a second cup of coffee, discuss the previous night’s ball game, and send someone out for breakfast. The real work usually doesn’t begin until the boss arrives.

If you have ten employees, the unproductive time of a collective lost hour each morning equals a full-time employee each week. That’s a high price to pay for your flexibility. How much more do you have to accomplish in order to generate that additional revenue?

Control over your time is a privilege of ownership. If you are going to be out of the office for an hour or a day, it has much less impact than you might fear. Just make sure that it isn’t when everyone else in the company can build it into their work flexibility as well.

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