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Here Come the Holidays | Why Time Away is Critical for Leaders (It's Not What You Think)

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

The holidays are upon us, and for some, that means planning time away from the office. Before becoming a business owner, I thought once I was in charge it would be easy to take time off. I would be the boss, I would set the priorities and the pace, and if that included coming to a full stop once in a while, then I damn well would.

It is that simple. But it turns out, not that easy.

I’ve had enough guidance in modern leadership to know time off is necessary. I support my staff taking time for themselves on the regular. Intellectually, I understand I’m not exempt from this, and the only way to fight burnout is to prioritize a recharge. But I recently discovered I have underestimated the psychological side of being away from work.

This year, I took a family trip, one that flung me far from my office and responsibilities. Letting go, even for a week, was an effort. Inside, my work-self clung desperately, like a toddler being dropped at daycare. I had to sneak myself out while I wasn’t looking.

Eventually I was able to relax into days without Pavlovian twitches insisting I was late for something. We had lazy mornings, and long dinners. I even turned my phone off once or twice.

When I returned, of course everything was fine. In fact, better than fine. My team had survived and thrived without me. Reflecting on this outcome, I realized taking time off isn’t just good for me, it’s good for my team. Here’s my list of five reasons why:

Lead by example. When you allow yourself time away, you show that your support of time off is real. Your team deserves anxiety-free personal time. Your example can help them relax and unplug (just imagine how that mindset supports families on parental leave). Anxiety so high that you can’t take time away should never be the measure of commitment to a job.

Demonstrate trust. Leaving your team in charge while you walk away for a few days is a mark of confidence. You can still track certain emails, or assign a staffer to contact you if there’s a real emergency. But avoid being on top of your team digitally 24/7. Being a virtual specter keeping tabs from afar has the opposite effect.

Give them a break, and a chance. Evolved leaders understand the dynamic changes when the boss out of the office, and that’s good. People are given the opportunity to rise to new challenges, and fill new temporary roles. Set parameters for what you need them to cover while you’re gone, and don’t go back on that. Let them show you what they’re capable of.

Put it in perspective. Let go of any misplaced guilt or bargaining. You deserve a break, too. There are very few scenarios in which a business would topple because its owner is out for a week. (And if it does topple, you had bigger problems anyway. Better order another pumpkin spice cocktail.)

Say thanks. Your team deserves acknowledgment when they help you be your best boss-self. Be sure to celebrate any feats of grace that occurred while you were gone. You can even host a little team appreciation happy hour, and encourage everyone to start thinking about their next getaway.

Mary Frances

President + Ringmaster burkeMICHAEL+



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