Incito Leadership and Executive Coaching


Even leaders need breaks. How to make a real vacation happen.


Intellectually, we all know the benefits of vacation, and yet many leaders don’t take them or don’t take all of their vacation time.  Leaders need vacations to recharge and have new energy to bring back into the workplace.  I’ve worked with many leaders who feel a lack of passion and engagement in their work and can’t figure out why to then go on vacation and come back renewed with insight that they were feeling burned out before they went. Sometimes you’re so far in it, that you can’t see that you’re drained.

We talk about getting away and unplugging, but in reality how many leaders work a great deal while they are away?  How can you truly take a vacation when your role is 24/7/365?  Is it really worth it if you spend hours every day on the phone and email while your family is at the pool or engaging in outings while you sit in the hotel on a conference call or emails?

Check your story

If you can’t take a vacation and unplug, it’s time to do some serious investigating and reflecting to understand what is getting the way and what you need to do to correct the issue.  If you are that needed by the organization, you’re actually a business risk.

What is your story about vacations? Do you tell yourself that vacations are too much work, that they really aren’t important and that you love your work? Do you tell yourself that vacations are important, healthy and key to recharging and reconnecting with family and friends? Do you tell yourself that vacations are a time to explore something new to bring creativity and innovation into your work?  Connect with the benefits of vacation, not just the use it or lose it penalty. Believe in the value of vacation and recognize your need for time away to recharge and refresh your perspective. Realize that it is possible to organize your vacation in a way that benefits everyone involved. And, I want you to know that your beliefs around vacation impact not only you but also your team’s approach to their own vacations.

Plan for success

Begin with scheduling your vacations far in advance. This allows you to plan vacations away from critical moments in the business and to be present for moments that matter for you and your family. Schedule your vacations at times when there is sufficient team coverage to allow you to fully take a break without over burdening the team you are leaving behind. 

Plan ahead, not just your vacation but a success plan for your vacation. Include your leader and your team in setting yourself and them up for success during your absence.  Who will take over your role while you are away? Leaving everything until you return isn’t an effective strategy.  Identify what must wait and what can be addressed by others during your absence. 

Don’t forget to plan your return to work. Transitioning your leadership responsibilities is not only important when you are leaving but also when you return. Plan debrief time with key team members and with your leader to ensure smooth handovers occur including briefing on decisions that were made in your absence so you can support them and make adjustments if needed.  Consider blocking out your first day back if possible to transition with your team but to also address the flood of emails that will be waiting for you.

Develop others to take over while you are away

The difference between an average leader and an exceptional leader is that great leaders build strong teams around them and have strong boundaries and clear expectations. When those great leaders take vacation, their team members are equipped to keep things going without hesitation. Create the support, training and exposure they will need before you go.  This includes letting people fail instead of trying to fix, solve, tell, and do things for them.  If they can’t make mistakes, they can’t learn and you can’t ever go on vacation (nor can you be promoted).

Delegate as much as possible to be completed during your absence

Take the time to communicate your expectations and the decision-making scope for those who will be taking over but also for your team. I find leaders tend to under-communicate expectations and I recommend you over-communicate in this case. Be clear exactly what you expect to have happen and how.  Identify the support available and how you or other leaders can be contacted if needed.

Vacation frequency builds your team

Take vacations more than once a year and for more than a few days at a time. This helps develop your team’s ability to step in when you’re away as it becomes an expectation vs an out of the ordinary occurrence that you’ll be away. Longer vacations also allow your team to hit their stride during your absence and allows you to fully recharge, not just recover.

Set boundaries with your team and with yourself

Give yourself some completely disconnected time, even if it means only an hour at a time and even better if you can do it for a full day or several days. Instead of reading on Ipad, read a real book, write with pen and paper and avoid all email, take your watch off, and eliminate exposure to the news.

Up to 60% of Canadians and Americans do not take all of his or her vacation days. Will you be one of them?

Jenn Lofgren