Every now and then, everyone needs a break. How do we respond when community leaders need a break? How should we respond?
People are cyclic animals - humans are diurnal by nature. We eat at regular intervals and are most comfortable when things go according to schedule. This is the lizard brain in action.
So it's perfectly normal for community volunteers and leaders to engage in cycles of activity and inactivity in the community. It is, after all, another cycle. We rely on our leaders for a lot when they're at the peak of the cycle. How we as a community respond when our leaders need a break defines us as a community.
Give 'Em A Break
In my series entitled On Developer Communities I wrote the following in the first installment named The Team Builder:
[Leadership by committee] allows leaders to flow into and out of leadership. Job responsibilities and life in general can leave someone less amenable to participating in User Group leadership. It's imperative to not punish leaders for burning out, in my opinion. They burned out doing stuff for the community - let's not shoot our wounded, let's allow them ample (personal) time and (personal) space to heal. In fact, let's build that into the process. Cool?
When someone hits the wall, it's time to allow them the option to roll off without penalty. That last part is crucial. I think we as a community need to acknowledge the service of an individual by not penalizing their newfound or newly-realized need for a break.
"Keep In Touch"
When someone steps aside in our local community, I make it a point to thank them publicly and then say "Please keep in touch. Let someone know when you're ready to come back." And then I promptly back off. No ceremony, no hoopla. If I don't hear from them in six months, I ping them to see how they're doing. No pressure, just a Hey-how-are-you shout out.
The most important thing during this time is to leave that person alone. Let them come to the community, do not bring the community to them.
Keep in mind, this person has been going like crazy for the community for some time. The remainder of their life has been impacted. We don't know how and we don't need to know. Some return, some don't. Both choices are ok.
Our leaders give a lot of themselves to our community. Let's respect their decision (and privacy) when they step aside.