Why Leaders Should Take Breaks

There’s a long-standing understanding amongst our staff that they should be “worried” when I’m away on vacation. The first time new hires learn that I’m taking a vacation, longer-serving staff inform them to prepare for something big upon my return. Their words of warning are related to a pattern that has occurred time and again over the course of our history at ACHIEVE – that I am often known to return from a vacation with a big decision made or a new innovative idea.

Many of the big changes in our organization have actually come to me during and after I’ve taken a break from work. For example, the idea of ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership was born while I was a vacation in Key West, Florida. The idea of ACHIEVE Publishing (the publisher of this book) was born while I was on a vacation in France. And even the actual idea for this book was developed while I was laying on a beach in Ecuador.

Early on in my role at ACHIEVE, there was a pattern I observed in myself that has allowed me to carve out vacations at just the right time to benefit not just me but the organization. I have realized that I can’t be effective and work full time without slowing down several times a year. And I even know myself well enough to know the specific times of the year that I need to take a break.

A vacation or break from work should leave you refreshed, inspired, and ready to get back to work.

The first of these times is in January – this vacation almost always involves sitting in the sun on some beach, not doing much of anything other than reading books (truth be told, they are most often related to marketing, strategy, and business) or The Economist (the only time I have enough time to read this lengthy magazine is on vacation). I also always travel with a notepad to record my thoughts and ideas. The second of these times is June. After a big push from February to May, I am ready for a break right at the start of summer – July is too long for me to wait.

I actually see my vacations as crucial to my ability to lead our organization. For one, I return to work energized, excited, and focused – ready to tackle projects and goals. But most importantly, slowing down allows me time to think, particularly about big issues affecting our organization.

While I can often carve out micro-moments of time during a regular workweek, the reality is that for bigger related items, there is rarely enough time for me to fully consider, analyze, and decide on an approach. Instead, I am too often running from one meeting, project, or deadline to the next and put off taking the time I need to just think and consider some of the larger issues impacting our organization.

This time to think is so important that if I am struggling with a decision and there’s a vacation coming up, I will often put it off until then. For example, one of my most recent vacations provided the opportunity I needed to consider a personnel issue I had been struggling with for months. After taking a break, I returned with clarity about what needed to be done. I was ready to act with decisiveness rather than put things off any longer or make the wrong decision.

Some of you reading this will be observing by now that my “vacations” don’t really seem like vacations. Rather they are more like working vacations. The reality is that as the founder of ACHIEVE I have never been able – or even wanted – to fully shut off for more than a few days at a time. As a result, much of my vacation is filled with little moments of work-related activities. However, I do consider these slowed-down vacation periods sufficient for me.

A vacation or break from work should leave you refreshed, inspired, and ready to get back to work. And the time needed to fully be away from working to feel refreshed will vary for each leader. Some leaders need more than me, and some need less. My encouragement is that instead of focusing on the number of days away from work, try to take the time you need to feel refreshed, inspired, and ready to go back to work.

In my experience, it’s very rare to meet a leader (particularly those in senior leadership) who can or even wants to not think about work for weeks at a time. So instead of fighting the urge to take seven or 14 days off straight without thinking about work, my solution has been to have my trusty notepad for me to write my thoughts and ponderings down as they come to me – albeit while I’m sitting at a café in Paris or on a beach in Jamaica.

An important part of any leader’s job should be to take enough time to think. Many of us are in leadership positions because we have demonstrated our ability to act, but that often comes at the expense of thinking. Taking the time to truly think and reflect on major decisions is one of the most important things we can do. So, if you haven’t done so in a while, take a break – it’s good for you and your organization.

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Randy Grieser, Author & Speaker

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