Good leaders give themselves permission to stop. They step away from the tasks, pressures, and stress of the workplace and allow themselves the freedom to recharge their batteries. Doing so every so often allows leaders to maintain an objective view about what they do and why they do it. This sort of reflection is healthy for anyone, but it is especially important for leaders who necessarily shape the lives of so many others.
Too many leaders sidestep this important break away from the action. They either avoid taking a holiday, or they work right on through it. They check in multiple times each day and try to complete work tasks while sitting by the pool or lounging on the beach. Highly connected leaders become addicted to touching base and responding to messages throughout the day. Heaven forbid, they miss something important.
Leaders often justify this behavior by claiming that staying on top of messages is a matter of survival. When tasks and emails pile up over the vacation, catching up upon return can be beyond overwhelming.
Instead of asking others to help out during their absence, they prefer to be models of efficiency, sacrificing their vacation. The idea of personal sacrifice during downtime wasn’t helped by the pandemic. The lesson too many leaders learned during the lockdown was how working non-stop seemed so much more acceptable when exquisite scenery was within view.
The benefits to family relationships, mental health, and general wellbeing aside, there are real leadership reasons for taking a break. Most importantly, when leaders refuse to detach from work and take a holiday, they implicitly send a message throughout the organization that taking time off is not necessary.
When colleagues think it is unacceptable, or that it shows less commitment by stepping back from the day-to-day work, they, too, are reluctant to take time off. Burnout is rampant in organizations where vacations are seen as optional. Leaders give others permission to break away when they lead by example.
Leaders can also learn a lot about their leadership when they disappear from the action for a week or two. If leaders are a bottleneck for decisions or progress, even a few days off will make this crystal clear. Teams work best when they are player led, not leader driven. Too much reliance on the leader suggests a team that needs more empowerment and better processes. In reality, vacations let leaders know how healthy the team really is.
When the rubber band gets too taut, we can either let it unwind, or we can watch it snap. Leaders, like all high performers, need to recharge to be on top of their game. But the real reason leaders must take for vacations is for the team. When leaders are reluctant to step away, so is everyone else. As with so many things about leadership, vacations are as much about others as they are about you.