Business World Rising
A Deb Boelkes Company Since 2009


Putting yourself in time-out

April 2019

It was another lovely and warm mid-December afternoon in southern California. The house was all decorated for the holidays and my husband and I were looking forward to the family coming home soon for a visit. My Business World Rising team and I had just put a wrap on another successful Leadership Vistas Symposium. All was right with the world.

As I entered the kitchen to start preparing dinner, I heard my husband come in the back door from work, a little earlier than normal. I instantly smiled to myself as this meant we’d have a little more time to relax and de-brief about our day.

As I met him in the living room, I could see something was amiss. Still, I greeted him with a cheerful, “You’re home early!” He replied, “Yeah, I just got out of my appointment with the doctor.”

Humm. I had forgotten about that. I looked at him in my inquiring-minds-want-to-know sort of way and noticed him swallow hard. After a few seconds he said, “Looks like I have stage three breast cancer.”

 What? Cancer? Breast cancer? I was floored. All I could say was, “YOU?” 

For the first time in our 20+ years of marriage, it was the first time I ever saw him look frightened.

A million things whirled around in my head, all at once. I thought to myself, “This can’t be true.” “It must be wrong.” “Why would they think this?” All I could say was, “OK. What do we do now?” and hugged him as tight as I could.

After he shared the details of what he had just learned, I followed with “Ok. We have cancer. I’ll be there with you every step of the way. I love you and I promise you, you will not go through one minute of this alone. What’s our next step?”

Truly, the very last thing I thought about at that moment was my business, even though Business World Rising had been the foremost item on my mind, nearly every waking moment, for the past three years. I almost felt ashamed once I realized how laser-focused my passions had been as I got this new business off the ground, built the team and sponsor base, and began to deliver miraculous results for all our high-potential leadership clients, each of whom I loved dearly, as though they were my own family. Funny how, all of a sudden, none of that seemed to matter right now.

Fortunately, I had had plenty of crisis management training. I immediately put every bit of that knowledge to work. If ever I needed to be strong, calm, cool, collected, strategic, heartfelt and optimistic, this was the time.  

Fortunately, I normally was all these things, at work, at home, with the kids, leading our neighborhood’s Community Emergency Response Team operations, you name it. Thankfully, that muscle memory kicked in. I also instantly decided to let God take command of the ship so I could focus on doing the most important job I had to do: be there for my husband when he needed me.     

The next thing I did was put the business squarely in the very capable hands of my team. I’ve always espoused that no one should ever consider themselves indispensable. That certainly included me, even though I was the founder and CEO of the company. I never liked hearing people tell me, “Deb, you know, you are the company.” Now was my time to step away and prove them wrong. It was time for me to take a time-out and trust my team to do what they do. It was time to let them take the reins.

The next week, I called an all-hands-on-deck meeting and explained the situation. I told them I would participate when I could, but my first priority would have to be my husband for the foreseeable future, however long that might be.

Most of them looked a bit uneasy, but I assured them I had complete confidence in their abilities. That’s why I had hand-selected each and every one of them. They simply now just had to do precisely what we coached and mentored all our amazing high-potential clients to do: step up to the occasion and give it their best effort. Rise and shine!

And that is exactly what they did.

For today’s Mentoring Moment, consider this:

Do you have anyone on your team you believe is indispensable?  Have you ever thought of yourself as indispensable?

It’s critical for business leaders to do what’s in the best interest of our teams and organization every day. It’s vitally important we not only rise to every occasion and give our best effort, but we also must strive to make those around us better as we do that. We should be ready, at any moment, to backfill our own position with someone else…and backfill that person with someone else, and on down the line. How could you ever take advantage of a promotional “opportunity of a lifetime” if you have no one in mind to take on the role and responsibilities you are currently accountable for?

Certainly, no one wants to think about their own demise, but having a succession plan at the ready is critical for every organization, from the top to the bottom of the org chart. No matter what level manager you are, your most important responsibility is to ensure the business can “take a licking and keep on ticking” if, at any moment, one or more players on the team might be forced into an instant time-out.

One of my very favorite executive interviews I conducted while writing my upcoming books was with the now-late Teresa Laraba, former Senior Vice President of Customers for Southwest Airlines. She said this when I asked whether she ever felt indispensable:

“I want to think that if I left, I would leave a hole. I think I probably would for a day or two and then somebody else would run right in here and fill it up.

“The fortunate part is we are raised at this company to realize we are not indispensable, in the sense you should always have people who are working with you or for you who could take your place. The sign of a good leader is, when you are gone, there is somebody ready to take your place.

If you don’t already have a succession plan to replace yourself and everyone else on your team, do whatever it takes, as soon as possible, to create one. Don’t wait another day. Be ready to go after that next big promotional opportunity whenever it arises and be confident in knowing the organization you may leave behind will continue to run just as well as when you were there. 

Give it a try. You might be amazed at how far and fast you, and your team, can climb!

Deb Boelkes