When Leaders Are Unexpectedly Unavailable

Life happens, and leaders aren’t excluded from that statement. What happens when leaders are unexpectedly unavailable, but a big decision must be made? Who makes the decision? Who fills in for the leader until she’s back to work? In Episode 136 of the Lead From Anywhere podcast, I shared when this might happen and provided a detailed plan to make sure that if this happens to you, your team will be prepared to make those decisions in your absence.

When Leaders Are Unexpectedly Unavailable – Listen Now!

Sometimes Leaders Are Unexpectedly Unavailable

I recently shared a story about when I was an unexpectedly unavailable leader and an important decision had to be made.

When I say “unexpectedly unavailable,” I am talking about a sudden absence (personal/family emergency), not a planned vacation, scheduled surgery, etc. I am also talking about an unexpected absence with a looming decision that HAS to be made, not one that can wait for you to get back.

So what would happen if, unexpectedly, you were out of commission to lead your team and a decision had a tight deadline? The lesson I learned in my situation was that I have to have a plan.

Creating a Plan For When Leaders Are Unexpectedly Unavailable

Looking back, here’s how I would have gone about planning for my unexpected absence.

First, I would have identified my key employee to step into my shoes in these scenarios. I would also suggest having a backup to that key employee if you have the staff numbers.

Then, and this part is crucial, you have to select a trigger person. The trigger person is someone who KNOWS to put the plan into play (your spouse or significant other, your best friend, a teenage or adult child capable of making that call). If you’re unable to communicate, someone has to be able to call that key employee and say, “Implement the plan. Julie is going to be out for a week. Here’s what happened.”

I would then tell the key employee(s) that you are working on a plan. I’d also inform the trigger person of the same thing. Make sure your “trigger” person and the key employees have each other’s contact information.

The next step is to create the plan. I am now working on one that applies whether I’m out for a day or two, 1-2 weeks, an entire month, or 1+ months. Those plans all require different levels of preparedness and strategy.

For each plan, the first step is for the key employee to determine if that decision HAS to be made while I’ll be out and that it cannot wait, or be put off, or stalled. That’s a critical part of the plan, and you’ll have to work with your key employee on how to make that determination. From there, you go about building the plans.

I suggest getting that “out for a day or two” plan done first because that’s the most likely scenario that would happen in an emergency. Finally, once I have the “out for a day or two” plan done, I’ll share it with the key employees, we’ll tweak it together, and have a final plan with which they are comfortable.

Then go to work on the other scenarios and similarly review with your employees.

Preparing For When Leaders Are Unexpectedly Unavailable

I have been in leadership roles for a long time, and I know leaders who have been in this position without a plan. I will also say that I do not think it is a matter of if for most of us, but when.

As leaders, it is our job to prepare for the unexpected. To know who you’d tap to be in charge in your absence, to have a plan for them, know who would start the plan if you cannot, and then communicate that plan with the people involved.

I learned a stressful lesson a few months ago, and I won’t be caught in that scenario again. I hope this post can help you think through and plan what will happen if a big decision has to be made when you aren’t available to make it.