Great Leaders Take Vacations

By Dr. Mary Kay

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

You may be thinking about taking a vacation – your family probably wants you to take a few days off of work.

If you are like other managers, I know the idea of taking a vacation sounds like a lot of work!

Getting everyone prepared to get things done while you are gone, handling the tasks that always come up just when you are preparing to leave, and thinking about all the work you will have to take care of when you return can be overwhelming.

Are you one of the 57% of Americans that does not take all of his or her vacation days? Is it because you are afraid things will fall apart at work if you do?

Average or Extraordinary

The point of this article is not about whether you need to take a vacation to be a great leader. The real takeaway is that the difference between an average leader and an extraordinary leader is that great leaders build strong teams around them.

When great leaders take a vacation, their team members keep things humming without missing a beat. How can you really make this happen?

As we all know, senior managers can be very competitive and want to outperform peers to be the best at what they do. These top performers are often referred to as “high achievers.” A common complaint from team members of high achievers is they don’t get to really run their own area.

A senior manager (we will call him John) was consistently in the Top 3 out of 30 other facilities, month after month. John had the best bottom-line results in quality, safety, customer service, performance, and profitability.

John’s goal when we started working together was to be #1 consistently. He was tired of rotating from either being 1st, 2nd, or 3rd. John couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t sustaining his extraordinary results.

$2 Suitcase

After reviewing his stats with him, I noticed that his metrics were lower when he went off-site to company meetings or went on a fishing trip. It just so happened that any time John left the facility for a few days, the place would fall apart like a $2 suitcase.

The correlation between his facility’s performance numbers and his absence was a surprise to him, but his dread of being gone from work was not a surprise.


Each time he would go on vacation, he would return to a mess. It just wasn’t worth leaving. As a result of work piling up, John would rather stay at work than go on vacation with his wife to celebrate their 20th anniversary. Is John in trouble or what!?

I’m sure you have figured out by now that John was suffering from “it’s easier and better to do it myself” syndrome. John is really good at what he does and is now at the point in his career where he has to lead and think differently.

John’s decision? He chose a new leadership style by teaching others how to keep the facility going without him. Sometimes, we hit bottom before we realize that we need to do something differently.

Game Plan

Here was John’s game plan: He took three months and let his people fail. Instead of trying to fix, solve, tell, and do things for people, John inspired his team members to learn and excel by making mistakes.

Game Plan

The people in his facility were ecstatic. They couldn’t believe that John was willing to let them try new things, make decisions, and have not only the responsibility of their job but the authority to act upon what was best for the customer. John and I also made the following checklist (that you can download) to help him with his new-and-improved leadership style.

Yes, John’s performance numbers went down to 4th place in the short term, but after three months, he and his team members were the permanent #1 performing facility in the company.

Now the entire team’s success was sustainable compared to his own individual success fluctuating. Let’s not forget how much better life at home became when John actually spent some quality time with his wife and family.

Word of Caution

Remember that balance is the key. Don’t become a completely hands-off manager (stuck in your office or work area) or a micro-manager (doing things for people). You are accountable for results. The balance is when you teach people how to fish instead of fishing for them. You remember that leadership analogy, don’t you?

I’ve found a common trend in the leadership of high-performing business units. High-performing facilities outperform anyone else in the industry because of one of two reasons:

  • The leader at the top is a dynamo and micromanages daily priorities, metrics, people, etc., and rarely takes a vacation; or
  • The leader at the top knows how to build top-performing teams that achieve profitable results while he or she comfortably takes a vacation when needed – no sweat.

Which one are you? What adjustments do you need to make to keep your work results going while you are gone?

How Do You Keep Things Going While on Vacation?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay is a business leadership strategist, executive coach, trainer, author, and co-founder of the About Leaders community. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained over 30,000 leaders. Her Ultimate Leader Masterclass helps managers become more confident, decisive leaders.
  • Mo Babalola says:

    I agree with her analysis.

    Cultivating and mentoring

    leadership within the organization pays great dividends.

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