True Sign of a Great Leader > How Well They Protect PTO


To me there is one way to know if a leader is worth their salt.  It is something I don’t recall seeing in leadership books, white papers, or in training sessions.  To me the simplest way to see if a leader is doing their job is to ask team members one question:

“Did you use all your PTO last year?”

When a team member tells me they did not, my antennae go up.  My follow up, of course, is “well, why not?”.  Answers I get:

  • I didn’t have time to take it
  • I didn’t want to leave my team short-handed during that data conversion
  • I forgot I even had PTO
  • I have so much PTO I could never use it all
  • I’d rather use our great benefit that allows me to “cash in” my PTO

Here is the deal.  If you are a leader and you are OK with any of these reasons, you are not doing your job. I’ll take it a step further and say you should not be a leader.  Quit.  Be an incredible individual contributor.  But you need to let go of your dreams of being a leader.  Let that go. It’s over.

I’m emphatic about this.

Leaders do not have control over may things:  That acquisition, a law change, getting 12 job requisitions in a week, blah, yada.  But to be an effective leader you must protect your team’s off-time at all costs.  You have complete control of this.  Yes, you do… hush… you do. And the higher-performing your team is, the more you need to ensure they are taking this time.  It’s a sliding scale.  Seriously.

Protecting your team’s time does the following things:

  • Allows them to rest.
  • Curbs burnout.
  • It will improve performance in the long run.
  • Builds trust (yes, the alpha and omega of high-performance teams.)
  • Shows they can have a life outside of work.
  • Proves the entire team has their back.
  • Proves YOU have their back.
  • Models the right behaviors for the entire organization.
  • Helps with engagement.
  • Shows you’ve got your s**t together and can actually manage your team’s time. You can prioritize projects, you can cross train your team members so if one person leaves your function doesn’t implode…

I’m serious, if you need to get in a dog-fight with someone over it (including your team member who thinks they can’t take time), do it.  This is something you should “die on that hill” over.  The pace of organizations is crazy and it is nothing short of hubris for any leader to believe there isn’t time for rest. (Yes, I got all Greek Tragedy on you with “hubris”!)

So, right now ask your team how much PTO they have left for the year.  Pull out your calendars and start planning that time off.  The whole team will rest easier and will actually perform better in the end.

FOT Background Check

Dawn Burke
Dawn Burke is an HR Leader, speaker and writer, specializing in new HR practices, engagement and workplace culture.  Her HR career has spanned the last 20 years, most recently serving as VP of People for Birmingham, Alabama's award-winning technology company, Daxko. That’s right – the very DAXKO that our very own KD is an alum of, because there are only so many people in the big B’ham who are worthy of a VP of People title. A true Generalist, she’s done a little bit of everything, but recruiting and training is where she gets her mojo. She’s based in the good ol' blogging capitol of the south, Birmingham, Alabama, where you can frequently find her listening to the Beatles and REM, watching Breaking Bad reruns (and Snapped and Dateline), enjoying serious amounts of coffee (and cheese, but not together!), dreaming of where she will travel next, and wondering how in the world this theatre grad ever got into football or HR…Check out her blog at or talk to Dawn via emailLinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter

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