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How to take time off during a pandemic

December 18, 2020

Teaching your reports how to take ownership of a new responsibility, not to mention a current one, is the overlooked work of the modern leader. You assume that you’ve explained what’s needed, that you’ve turned over the knowledge and resources they need for you to step aside. Over time you learn that what you think is enough and what they actually need are often, innocently, far apart. Knowing how to close this gap is a year-round leadership skill. But, it’s also a critical skill to allow you to go on vacation.

Hopefully you’re taking some down time after being put through the leadership ringer this year. Whether it’s a few days or a few weeks, do the work now to ensure you get the recharge you desperately need.

A recent article from HR Dive said it well: “Frequent work interruptions on a day off may signal leadership shortcomings.” In other words, if a direct report calls for guidance during your time off, then you missed something along the way and you’ll need to improve your leadership approach.

Here are four things to talk through with your team before you turn on your Out-of-Office message. You’ll be creating an asset you can use for years to come.

  1. Ask your team to list all the potential progress blockers that could come up while you’re out. Name the problems before you try to solve them.
  2. Put someone’s name, with their agreement, next to each of those potential problems with shared notes on how to deal with what might come up in your absence. Give an example of something they should handle without you.
  3. Use the moment to share a little vulnerability: “It’s hard for me to turn off.”And also express your appreciation and confidence: “Trust your judgment and do your best. It’s not the end of the world if you have to push something off until I’m back.”
  4. Be clear with them on exactly what you’re going to do and not do: “I’m not bringing my laptop with me but I will have my phone. However, I’m going to delete the email and Slack app from my phone while I’m away so I don’t have the temptation.” (Yes, that’s what I do and yes, it works.)

I don’t know any leader who says this wasn’t the most challenging year in their career, including the ones whose businesses grew exponentially. While it seems we’re cresting the hill of the worst of it and adjusting to the next phase, 2021 will call on you in ways we can’t predict right now. Get ready. Get some rest. Get help from your team to do it.

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