In late 2009, I took a twelve-week maternity leave. I was quite sure that it would be a working leave. I was in the middle of so many projects, leading many of them, and I was the expert on our organization’s database. The organization I worked for at the time was small enough that we didn’t have redundancy built in, so there was no one person to take over while I was gone.

Because we were adopting, very few people knew I was preparing to take maternity leave. Our daughter’s birth mom was still her mom at that point, and she had the right to change her mind and parent her child. I wanted to limit my emotional fall-out if this happened, so I told very few people that I would likely be gone for thee months with no advanced notice.

Two colleagues and I worked hard to prepare for my leave. They would manage things while I was gone, share the plans we’d come up with, and route database questions and project requests through their teams. I asked them to limit queries and requests for me to once a week max if at all possible. I had a daughter to get to know.

They emailed me one time over the entire three months.


I’ve been coaching for over a decade, and it’s common for me to hear from leaders that they simply cannot take their vacation days. They roll them over or lose them every year. Here are some of the reasons I’ve heard from them about why they don’t take vacation time:

  • They love their work and don’t want to take time away.
  • They’re too busy and can’t make the time.
  • They don’t believe their team can be effective without them.
  • They feel cultural pressure not to take vacation time and they’re concerned they might be judged for doing so.
  • They have no idea what to do with themselves if they’re not working.
  • They don’t plan ahead for time away and the year just passes them by.

I believe that the best leaders are intentional about taking time off, not just for their own benefit, but because it also benefits their teams, their families, and their future. Taking time off doesn’t necessarily mean going away for vacation. Sometimes just staying home for a few weeks can be incredibly restorative. West Michigan is a vacation destination, after all. (Pro tip here: If you’re exhausted and have young kids, maybe do some of that vacationing when those little people you love so dearly are still in school.)

Here’s some of the benefit of taking time off:

  • Models healthy balance: Not taking your own vacation time while telling your team to do so can quickly becomes “do as I say not as I do.” This kind of behavior can reinforce a culture where taking time off is seen as unacceptable if you want to move up in the organization. Ouch.
  • Provides development opportunities for your team: If you remember from LEAD 365, one of the best ways to develop people is to give them challenging assignments. Your absence for a week or two (or three) provides opportunities for people to step up and perform in ways they otherwise might not need to.
  • Forces you to delegate and practice not overfunctioning: Over 95% of LEAD 365 participants self-identify as overfunctioners. Taking time away makes it necessary to delegate what you otherwise might not.
  • Gives you new and different insight into your team: I know of several cases where a leader had to be away for an extended period of time, either for maternity leave, personal issues, or health. In each of these cases, that leader reported back that their team blew them away with how much they took on and how well they did in their leader’s absence. Observing this prompted some of those leaders to continue delegating responsibility to their team members, and the entire team became more efficient and effective as a result. What a great added benefit of being away!
  • Gives you balcony time: Balcony time is intentional time away from the dance floor (your day-to-day work). Balcony time lets you look down at the dance, see trends you may not notice while in the middle of it all, and orchestrate the dance’s next moves. This can apply to your personal life just as much as your work life.
  • Lets you rest: Just like many of our leaders self-identify as overfunctioners, many of our leaders tell us they are working past their point of greatest impact. They’re at C, or maybe approaching a Red-X. Being intentional about scheduling time off, and not just a day or two, can help get you back to a healthier place. If that feels impossible right now, look ahead a few weeks or months and schedule some time off. Then stick to it. You will be more effective and more impactful when you return to work.
  • Prepares you for life after work: Some day you will retire. And for some of you, that’s a scary thought. Incorporating regular stretches of time off prepares you for this in many ways:
    • It let’s you connect more deeply with family and friends.
    • It allows you to discover more about your own root system.
    • It helps you cultivate passions and interests outside of work.

We’re just past the mid-point of the year. How much vacation time have you used? How much do you have scheduled? How do you feel about that? If I asked your spouse or closest friend, what might they tell me about the amount of time you take off? If you’re already on top of this, that’s fantastic. If not, I challenge you to take the time to schedule time off and then stick with it. It’s worth it.

Lead on,

Image by _basti. Used under CC-BY-ND 2.0 license.