Planned or unplanned, life happens, and support for handling life events requires flexibility and understanding from both you and your company. The better job we do at handling a leave, the more successful we will be as leaders upon return. My recent experience with maternity leave, combined with observations of colleagues and other leaders requiring leave, have strengthened my view that how we navigate a leave of absence impacts our experience during leave, the team’s success while we are away, and our personal success as leaders upon return. The time invested in preparing a thoughtful transition plan while still in the office can ensure your strategic vision is carried out in your absence, by a team who is prepared to take on new responsibilities to uphold effective business management.
Communicate with your manager early and often. The more they understand the situation, the better equipped your manager will be to support you and the rest of your team. Be as specific as possible about the timing of your leave, but also be clear about your intentions upon return. Put your manager in a position where they can maintain confidence in your performance, commitment to the team, and ability to make informed business and organizational decisions.
Speak with trusted colleagues who have been through leave. Often, this opens up a new relationship with colleagues who understand what you’re going through and can help you prepare. Learning from others’ experiences can yield helpful tips, like ensuring you return midweek and not on a Monday, that can make all the difference.
Take initiative and create a transition plan. This plan is your responsibility. Being proactive and organized will demonstrate that you are committed to your responsibilities in the workplace, even when you’re not there. If possible, put pen to paper weeks in advance of your intended leave date and socialize it with interim owners. This will encourage owners to ask questions, identify tasks you didn’t include, and provide you a chance to ensure a shared understanding of responsibilities.
Be clear about decision-making. Within your plan, be specific about which decisions can be made during your absence and those that must wait until you return; rolling back changes is often more difficult than waiting.
Be sure to plan for supervision and mentoring of directs. These people will support you when you’re out, so be sure to ask what you can do in advance to set them up for success. Also, consider this an opportunity to both assess talent and invest in that talent by providing them with additional responsibilities. This is your chance to see who steps up while you’re out and give people exposure they may not have had.
Have a catch-up with your community a few weeks prior to return. While this is a personal choice, this communication can help you reacclimatize so you’re ‘in the loop’ on projects, aware of anything big that may have changed, and start your reengagement.
Prepare for the “new normal.” You won’t know what that means or looks like until you return, but if flexibility is required, be specific in your request when seeking a temporary revised work schedule and be prepared to return that flexibility if and when it’s needed. Also understand that adapting to life changes may take some time; factors beyond your control, like finding caretakers or accommodating appointments, may disrupt what was once an average work day. Don’t become discouraged, but do keep lines of communication open with your manager and with your team.
Most importantly, step confidently back into your role. Own your career. Be assertive and don’t let anyone assume what you can or cannot do now. Do not be apologetic; you are not ‘behind’ because you took a leave of absence. Remember the hard work and achievements that made you a successful leader, and don’t forget to pay it forward and support your colleague when they need to do the same.
Most importantly, step confidently back into your role. Own your career. Be assertive and don’t let anyone assume what you can or can.