My wife and I just had our first child, so I took most of the month of September off from work. I checked in here and there, but mostly my attention was somewhere else entirely.
Before I went away, I thought a bit about how to do it. A tempting option was to leave precise instructions detailing how things should run while I was gone. Equally tempting--and daunting--was to just let things happen naturally without too much planning. Some combination of the two extremes seemed fitting, but finding the right balance wasn't obvious. When another part of your life pulls you away from running your business for more than a moment, is it best to exercise more control, or to let it go?
In the end, I opted for basically just slipping away. I was deep into a couple of projects that involved different team members, and I talked to those people before I took off. But mostly I said, "See you in a few weeks!" I figured what was in motion would stay in motion.
After all, we've been at this for 15 years. If the company can't run without me for a while, then I'm not doing my job well. Furthermore, I know my business partner is as capable as I am of running things on his own. If anything absolutely needed my attention, it would find me one way or another.
While I was out, I barely thought about work. When I did, it wasn't to worry--it was to wonder what Basecamp looked like without me. I've always been curious about how someone else would do my job. Given a specific situation, what decision would someone other than me, but with the same exact information, come to? Would it be the same as, or radically different from, mine? Would the decision blow me away (good or bad)? Would it be something I'd never even considered before?
When I finally did come back, I checked in with a few folks and used the Catch Up feature in Basecamp to have a look at the progress of a couple of key projects. Really I just poked around to get a sense of what felt different.
Some of the product decisions I had made before I left had been overturned. Some of the designs I'd been working on had changed drastically. Some of the fundamental concepts behind improvements I'd been working on had gone in entirely new directions.
And it was awesome! Not that I agreed with everything or didn't have any new changes to make. But even in those cases, seeing a different perspective was enlightening. In many other cases, I liked my team's new solutions better than mine. And in some cases, neither idea was quite right, but seeing both ultimately led to new ideas that neither I nor the team would have had separately.
As it turns out, paternity leave was a great way to answer my questions about how someone else would do my job. A week or two of vacation generally isn't long enough to see significant changes pop up, but a month is a perfect amount of time.
What I got out of this experience had a lot to do with my expectations going in--even if setting them had made me uneasy at first. Had I established strict rules and guidelines and an exact path to follow while I was gone, I'd have come back to a nasty surprise. Things changed?! What the hell? But because I had left determined to remain curious and open to seeing what would happen when I was out of the picture, the results were beautiful.
Being away--and being open to what would happen while I was away--has already made me a better leader. I learned to trust more, to let go more, and to put more faith in other people's noninfluenced work.