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"The word 'vacation' originates from the Latin 'vacatio,' meaning freedom from occupation. Nothing could be further from the truth in today's working environment." Fierce Inc.

We've got vacation all wrong. Instead of relieving stress, it adds to it. Instead of eagerly anticipating days away, we dread coming back to a deluge of work. Instead of relaxing on a beach or soaking in a new culture, we worry about our businesses going up in flames. And, too often, instead of going at all, we stay behind.

But when we get vacation right, it boosts happiness, health, and productivity. It's good for the bottom line. So, really, you're doing your company a disservice by not getting away... really away! Get it right: trust the people who are assuming responsibility while you're away - and then go.

Delegating Effectively During Vacation

Jeffrey Pfeffer, the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, says, "Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn't go to hell if you take a day off."

This begins on day 1. As a leader, honing your delegating skills and determining what your people can handle has to be part of "business as usual." If you schedule your vacation and only then start to think about what to delegate, how, and to whom - well... it's too late. Those tasks will have to wait until you get back. Or you'll have to make yourself available during your vacation - which defeats the whole purpose of "getting away."

You Shouldn't Be "Too Necessary"

Don't fall into the common leadership trap of thinking you're "too necessary." As Chris McIntyre writes, when leaders feel this way, they "fail to empower or motivate their employees in order to keep the game going while they are gone." As a result, you become an indentured servant to your company.

Discouraged? Don't be. In fact, now might be the right time to get away. Veteran entrepreneur Matt Shoupp writes, "There is no better way to see how the company runs without you than leaving it." He recommends a one to two week "mini" vacation in which you are completely unavailable.
That may sound more like torture than R&R; if so, start with a few days. "When you come back, evaluate where issues arose and unanswered questions linger. These bottlenecks will show you how you can and should empower your team."

Empower Your People: Enjoy Your Vacation

In Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott discusses the concept of a Decision Tree. There are four levels of decisions. Briefly:

  • Leaf. Do it. Make the decision and leave me out of it.
  • Branch. Make a decision, take action, and then report back to me later.
  • Trunk. Hold on: come to me, we'll talk about the decision, and then you can proceed.
  • Root. I cannot delegate these decisions; they belong to me.

Use the Decision Tree to delegate during vacation. The fact is, when you're gone, only branch and leaf decisions can be made.

Remember, these will look different depending on the level of the person owning the decisions. For example, a leaf decision or task for an administrative assistant may be ordering more office supplies. For an experienced manager, it may be pulling someone off a lower-priority task to handle an urgent project.

The key is empowering your people continually - not just when you have a vacation coming up. The goal, as Scott explains, is to push as many decisions and tasks out to the leaf category as possible. This indicates that your people are progressing as employees and as leaders in their own right. And it indicates that they can hold down the fort while you're gone.

Communicating with Direct Reports While You're Away

There's no great difference between touching base with your direct reports, whether you're in or you're out. The only change is the timeframe. On vacation, you should be less available. If you're not, you're doing it wrong! People should follow the same processes and procedures as usual; but where you may have followed up with them the next day, you follow up in a week or two.

Again, because your people are tackling leaf and branch decisions, you can afford this lag time. They should feel authorized, and yes, empowered, to act without you hovering nearby.

When you're a leader, the most important part of planning a vacation isn't scouring Kayak or Priceline for deals. It is ensuring that your people can make decisions and act accordingly while you are away. With this peace of mind, you may even take off more often and truly enjoy "freedom from occupation."


Larry Hart

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