Leadership – The ‘vacation’ test

What makes a good leader?

Is there a test – just one single test – that can pick out ‘good’ leaders from the novices?

There are more books on leadership than one can throw a stone at. There is nothing that one can say that hasn’t been said.  And while the key point of this post has probably been thought of as well, it is still worth mentioning again.

Building a good Team

Any leader will tell you that their most important task is putting together a quality team. A team that gets the big picture – and strives to get the company/group to that destination.

How do you know if you have put together a good team?

Let us assume that you, the leader, have put together this great team. What is the true test of whether your team is truly effective? Some might say ‘Results’, ‘Sales Growth’ etc. These are all ‘textbook’ answers. The real test of whether you have put together a good team is the following:

If you (the leader) were to go on vacation, would the team still function as effectively?

I call this the Vacation Test (The credit for developing this test goes to Biman Mitra). It sounds simple, but captures a lot of the key aspects of good leadership.

A good leader starts disseminating knowledge and responsibilities from day one. He continually empowers his employees/team members till they get to a point where they are able to take responsibility for critical tasks themselves. This, in itself, is a full time job. If a leader can accomplish even 50% of this task, he/she is in a position to go on vacation. If this task has not been done successfully, chances are that the entire company will drown in the absence of the leader.

Fortune 500 to Mom and Pop Stores

Apart from the simplicity of this test, there is another aspect that is noteworthy. This test applies equally to large companies as well as smaller ones. It applies equally to 2 member teams as it does to 50 member groups as it does to 500 (or 5000).

Empathy and the Vacation Test

If you have done right by your employees, chances are that they will do anything to make your vision a success. This can only happen if they a) Respect you b) Like you as a person. Neither a) nor b) is possible if you yourself have not treated your employees with empathy.

If your dealings lack empathy, you will still have control over your employees – but with the use of fear instead of empathy. Your employees will still perform – but out of fear instead of respect. And therein lies the golden ingredient to succeeding at the vacation test. Empathy!

Only an empathetic leader can get results out of his employees without constantly bossing over them or micromanaging them. Only an empathetic leader can inform his employees that he/she will be out on vacation for the next 4 weeks – and that he was entrusting the company to their capable hands. If she has done her homework, she will have a wonderful vacation – and be able to return to a stable state of affairs.


Are you at the helm of a company or group? Are you doing enough to empower the people below you? If you were to go on vacation, would your company survive? Are you treating your employees with both respect and empathy? If not, chances are you will flunk the vacation test.

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Specializing in high volume web and cloud application architecture, Anuj Varma’s customer base includes Fortune 100 companies (dell.com, British Petroleum, Schlumberger).

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Anuj Varma – who has written posts on Anuj Varma, Technology Architect.

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