Michael gripped the phone in his hand and could not contain himself. He jumped from his desk and started dancing, not caring who could see him through his window. His wife had just texted with the news. After years of paperwork, interviews, and expense, their adoption had come through. They had been on the wait list for an eternity with another six months to go, but now they  would be picking up their daughter on Monday.

As he started to relax, the realization hit him – six months early. While his wife and he were ready, his job was not. He had planned everything so that all of this year’s major projects would be wrapped up before he left for his three-month leave but now he was going to be gone for all the critical dates. He thought about waiting to take his leave, working while he was gone, but he mostly thought about how he may never get the opportunity to spend this much time with his daughter again. He looked out the window where his team sat and wondered if they could handle it without him. Some of his peers could help, but they had their own teams to lead and limited capacity to help…

We often measure a leader’s performance based on the assumption that the leader is present. However, one of the best tests of a leader is to remove them and see how the team performs.

Here are four strategies Michael put in place long before he received the text from his wife.   You can put these strategies in place now to enable yourself to take leave or better yet, get promoted.

  • Clear mission – Recognize that the mission affects every component of how the team operates. Be clear and repetitive about what it is the team is to accomplish and what success looks like. Repetitive to the point where your direct reports can and do repeat what you say to their teams.
  • Peer teamwork – Be clear with your direct reports about how you expect them to operate. They are one another’s “first team” which means they have each other’s backs, work and win together. To be clear – their first team is not their team of direct reports; rather it is one another.
  • Informed stakeholders – You have a first team too. Make sure your first team is informed about the mission of the team you lead and how it integrates with what their teams do. Where appropriate, create mentoring relationships for your directs with members of your first team to build relationships with leadership that go beyond you.
  • Career Planning – Prepare team members for their next position. Discuss with each person what his or her career goals and personal values. Provide the opportunities necessary to develop needed skills and improve upon strengths.

After 12 weeks, Michael returned to work to find his team had gotten on quite well without him. While on leave he received a few emails letting him know critical projects were complete. As expected, his high performers stepped up. However, Andrea surprised him. She had always been a steady worker, the kind who is solid and reliable. In his absence, Andrea excelled. She found the extra space liberating, and took on additional responsibility and supported others to step up. She went from a dependable performer to a superior one.

Michael’s new leadership challenge became how to keep that momentum going so that one day Andrea could leave her team for whatever life-changing wonderful event she chose.


Bonus points – Read The Rocket Model: Practical Advice for Building High Performance Teams (Curphy and Hogan, 2012). You will feel validated for all of the great team work you have been doing and identify how you can further raise the bar for yourself and the teams on which you work.