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Three weeks ago, I took an amazing fourteen-day vacation in Europe with my cousin and her daughter.  We spent 2 days in Barcelona, Spain and then boarded the new Carnival Vista cruise ship to visit various ports in France, Italy, Greece and Turkey.  The experience was truly a trip of a lifetime. What made it so thoroughly enjoyable was that fact that I unplugged from work.

When I got back, several of my colleagues asked me how I was able to disconnect from work worry-free and have things run so smoothly in my absence.  As Chief Operating Officer and partner of a healthcare consulting company as well as CEO of my own Leadership Coaching business, my days are full of meetings, emails, demands from customers and vendors.  Just like you or any leader, my life is busy.  And yet, no matter who you are, what you lead or how demanding your role is, it is essential to take time for yourself and separate from the day to day demands.  Not only do you personally need time to re-charge, doing so empowers your team members, customers and vendors to operate and possibly even thrive without you.  Now I know that the thought of things working normally without you may feel threatening.  After all, if you’re not needed for two weeks, what is your purpose in the organization?

Effective leaders are confident in themselves and others and realize that their absence at work truly makes “the heart grow fonder.”  In other words, giving up control and letting others fill your role makes them feel appreciated and empowered while increasing their respect and trust in you as a leader.  Unplugging is a win-win for everyone, especially you.  My faith in disconnecting was tested a few times on my trip.  I caught myself during the bus ride along the Amalfi Coast in the midst of the beautiful vistas, villages and beaches along the Mediterranean Sea wondering “How many emails are in my inbox?”, yet those thoughts were quickly dismissed as our big tour bus faced another one of its size on a road that was designed for horse carts! Unplugging takes a conscious effort and choice before and during your vacation. It is natural to think about work, especially if you love what you do; however, giving yourself a break and others an opportunity to lead increases productivity for everyone.  It’s also a way to fully enjoy an amazing once-in-a-lifetime vacation experience, something that probably took time and money to plan and execute, right?

Planning is the key to success with any project, so here is how I prepared myself and others to be out of the office:

  1. Prepare in advance

I began preparing to be gone for two weeks about a month ahead of my departure date.  Each day I spend time contemplating what activity or event might occur during the fourteen days I was going to be away.  I reviewed scheduled meetings and action plans to determine if I could hold them earlier, delay them until after my return or assign them to a delegate to act on my behalf.  In retrospect, I believe almost all of the meetings and actions I was able to successfully handle ahead of time with no impact to myself or my customers.  It was a great relief to know that I could accomplish so much before I left.

  1. Communicate

Most people communicate their absence with an out of office alert.  While I did that as well, I also communicated my absence in advance to those individuals that I worked with on a daily basis including customers, vendors and employees.  Depending on our relationship I made a phone call, sent an email or did both informing and preparing the individuals for my absence.  I think many leaders don’t want to communicate that they are going on vacation, but people are people.  Everyone wants to go on vacation!  People respect leaders that take the time to enjoy life!  Every conversation I had or email I sent was met with responses like ‘Good for you!”, I’m jealous take me.” Or “Enjoy yourself, everything will be fine here without you!” In my communication I shared that I would be gone for two weeks, would not check email and provided a delegate that they could contact if an emergency happened.  If there was an action that had been completed in advance or postponed, the interested parties were aware of it.  And of course, I set my out of office alert as a reminder and a notice in case someone new contacted me.

  1. Delegate

I think this is the one action that stops many leaders.  It is essential to delegate your work and authority in your absence.  This requires that you choose a trusted team member who you know can be responsible for making decisions and taking action in your absence.  Delegating means you give them the parameters within which they can operate.  You provide insight into how and what drives your decisions.  You offer guidance into any financial or contractual boundaries that may exist.  And most importantly, you share your confidence in their abilities to do what is right for the business.  If you have a huge decision or project that requires your input while you are away, you can establish a pre-set date and time to connect to check in; however, I recommend doing this only in the most extreme situations.  Delegation requires letting go of control and trusting your team member, so resist the urge to check in frequently as it undermines the individual’s authority.

  1. Unplug

Acting upon Nike’s advice, the final step in unplugging is ‘Just Do It!”  This is the hardest part.  We are so programmed to check our texts, emails and voice mails that unplugging seems very awkward and uncomfortable.  I must confess, that the first two days, I was on vacation, I made myself available to check email and texts. Guess what, each time I did it, the person at the other end responded with “You are on vacation, stop working.”  Enough said!  From that point forward, thanks to lack of cellular and wireless service I was forced to stay off the “grid.”  After about five days, I found myself checking for wireless service in cities and apparently the Universe did not want me working because although my phone connected to wireless, I got no access to the internet!  As my trip progressed, my addiction to checking texts and emails began to wane and I felt completely at ease and relaxed knowing all was well.      I hope I can be so disciplined when I go on vacation to a place that access is readily available. I guess I will simply trick myself into thinking I have no access or be forced to always cruise or travel overseas!

Unplugging allowed me time to mentally recharge, despite the physical demands of having non-stop fun seeing as many sights as possible.  I was also able to focus on my relationships with my cousin and her daughter, and with the people we met along the way, not to mention with myself!  Of course, I missed talking to my loved ones at home and when I returned we were all happy to re-connect and appreciated each other in our absence.   I also know that my actions set an example for others on my team and to me that is invaluable.  I believe everyone regardless of rank, title or position must take time off.   Taking an unplugged vacation, re-powers you and empowers those around you.  Leaders unplug and enjoy their vacation!

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