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Sometimes Leading Means Taking a Step Back

Just to be clear, Murnighan is not suggesting that leaders should disappear into their offices. The "Do Nothing" in his book title refers to the everyday running of the business: the accounting, email blasts, routine vendor calls or other back-office operations. If you have hired people to do those jobs, they should have a chance to prove themselves without interference.

The key to being a "do nothing" leader is to do everything when it comes to hiring. If you conduct in-depth interviews and reference checks before bringing in a worker, you can be confident you're bringing in someone who will be a good fit. "Why not trust the people you hire?" Murnighan asks. "Most leaders don't as much as they could. Give them a challenge that's a little more than they anticipate and they'll step up to meet it."

For people with little or no management experience, becoming the head of a company can be overwhelming. What Murnighan hopes his book accomplishes is to show that "leading" does not mean literally showing people how to do their jobs. It means leading a team: focusing on big-picture strategy and morale, rather than day-to-day, routine matters.

"If you are an entrepreneur with 100 employees and a positive cash flow, what is your most important resource? It's the people you've hired," Murnighan says. "You have to connect to them personally. Employees don't care about what you know if you don't show any interest in them."

And so another essential element of "do nothing" leadership is to make time for walking around and talking. Such socializing may indeed look like nothing -- nothing work-related, anyway -- but it is essential to building a strong, motivated team. Asking a customer-service rep what he or she needs to make their job easier, rather than lecturing them on how you used to handle difficult calls, gives them tools to be successful in their own way.

If you've dreamed of achieving a better work-life balance, Murnighan's book has plenty of examples of how to make that happen. But ultimately, it means acknowledging that you are not as indispensible as you think. And that can be a hard lesson for ambitious entrepreneurs to accept.

When it comes to charting the direction of a company, Murnighan proposes what he calls the leadership law: "Think of the reaction you want, then perform the actions that will get you that reaction." If you really, truly, want to spend less time at work, you can. But you have to be willing to hand over responsibility to others and trust them to do those tasks as well as you would.

If you can do that, you might just earn yourself a European-style vacation -- and still have a successful business to come back to afterward.

Don't make work harder than it needs to be.
This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.
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