Why Vacations Are Critical For Successful Leadership


With the welcome arrival of the warm summer months, many of us – myself included – are eagerly making final plans for our vacation break and with it, some much needed time for rest and relaxation.

Of course, taking any time off work these days can be quite challenging if not difficult for the very reasons why we need to take these much needed breaks from our everyday workday lives. Namely, the faster-paced, increasing demands on our time, energy, and finite resources that we all have to manage as members of the modern workforce.

These rising demands – not to mention how quickly things can change in the span of a few weeks – can make it very tempting for leaders to pull back on the amount of time they take off from work in order to keep a finger on their organization’s pulse.

While this might address our concerns (and fears) over the short-term, the reality is that it will have a far greater impact on our long-term success as a leader of our team or organization.

To that end, as I make preparations for my vacation break, I’d like to share the following benefits that taking a vacation has on our ability to be successful in our leadership.

1. Vacation breaks give us the opportunity for reflection and review
When I ask some of the leaders I’ve worked with what tasks they’d like to spend more of their workday on, more often than not one of the answers they give is spending more time on ‘big-picture thinking’; of putting their energies and focus on examining the realities and challenges their organization currently faces, and what opportunities this might present going forward.

Of course, this answer is not too surprising as many studies have shown that business leaders around the world would like to be able to spend more time on big-picture thinking.

The key challenge, however, is that thanks to today’s 24/7 wired world, leaders now face ever-growing demands on their time, energy, and attention, a situation that makes having time for pondering the longer view seem more like a luxury than a critical element for leading today’s organizations.

And yet, the reality of leadership today is that leaders need to provide context for what their employees’ efforts today will create for tomorrow [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter]. That to keep their employees engaged and invested in what they contribute today requires an understanding of what this will lead them towards over the long run.

And this is where taking vacation time become so critical to our ability to succeed at leadership – it provides us with that distraction-free environment for us to reflect and review on what we have done so far, on what we need to do next, and what will be required of us going forward.

2. Vacation breaks fuel our creativity muscles by allowing us to pursue our other interests
While taking vacation breaks can certainly provide us with those much-needed opportunities for distraction-free time for reflection and review, there are other benefits to be found in taking time away from the office.

Indeed, one of the things we all enjoy about taking vacations is having the opportunity to pursue our other interests, something that allows us to rejuvenate our mind and body so that we’re ready to take on what awaits us when we return to work.

But there’s another key advantage that comes from using our vacation time to pursue our other interests and that is how this allows us to flex and strengthen our creativity muscles, improving our ability to identify and discover new ideas that might be worth exploring when we return to work.

After all, when we’re on vacation, we’re in a mental frame of mind where we’re open to trying out new experiences, to taste new foods, and to explore new environments. Through each of these activities, we’re helping our brain to create new cognitive pathways because we’re going off our well-worn paths, employing a mechanism neuroscientists refer to as “global processing”.

It’s this process which often precedes those ‘A-ha!’ moments where patterns suddenly take shape because we’ve helped our brain to find a new way to understand and connect the ideas and experiences swirling in our mind.

In many ways, this explains why earlier this year there was so much discussion and so many articles written about the importance of mindfulness in our leadership. In each of those articles or studies, the driving force behind becoming more mindful was how this process would help us to gain a better insight into ourselves – into what really pushes us to be more attentive to how we show up to engage with those we lead, and what gets us excited about the work we do.

By making time to go on vacation so we can free ourselves from our everyday work routines to explore our other interests, we will not only build and strengthen our sense of curiosity about ourselves and our environment, but we’ll open ourselves up to seeing things in a new light.

That’s why so many of us return from vacation with a renewed sense of purpose and action – we’ve given ourselves that much needed time away to better understand how we can help our employees to become more responsive and adaptive to the changing needs and realities of our industry.

3. Taking vacation breaks creates opportunities for employees to grow
When it comes to the work we do, one of the things I’ve written and spoken a great deal about is that successful leadership involves creating an environment where people feel like what they do matters [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter]; that they’re creating a sense of value and purpose not only for those your organization serves, but for themselves as well.

Of course, we have to pair this understanding with the reality that none of us – even those in charge – are indispensable. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of a successful leader is how they empower those under their care to learn and grow, so that they rely less and less on those they follow to achieve the goals set out before them.

And this illustrates another benefit that comes from taking vacation breaks – it creates opportunities for our employees to challenge their assumptions of what they’re capable of and, in the process, to stretch their core competencies in order to become more valued contributors to our organization.

This also helps to reinforce the fact that as leaders, our job is not to have all the answers, but to help our employees to find them [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter].

Indeed, by taking vacation breaks in today’s faster-paced business environment requires that we delegate more than just the tasks we don’t want to do. Instead, we have to provide our employees with responsibilities that will ensure that things continue to operate smoothly in our absence.

In other words, by going on vacation, we end up delegating work that matters, which will encourage a greater sense of ownership in our employees because they played a greater role in our absence in helping to bring our shared purpose to life.

Another benefit from this process is that it also allows us to gain a better understanding of the kind of work that ignites our employees’ internal drives to push themselves; to become better than they are today, so that we can continue to provide such opportunities in the future in order to ensure that we’re able to bring out the best in those we lead.

The simple truth is that the current demands we face on our time, our attention and our limited resources will not lessen over time, but will probably increase alongside the increasing complexity of today’s 24/7, wired world.

So if we want to make sure we are doing right by our employees and our organization, that we are providing the best conditions and best decisions to navigate our organization through this increasingly complex and fast-changing global environment, we need to recognize the importance vacation breaks have in giving us that much needed time to rest, to review where we’ve been, and to reflect on what we need to accomplish next to achieve our shared purpose.

By making efforts to take vacation breaks from work, we can ensure that we are in fact providing through our leadership the kind of environment and conditions our employees – and consequently, our organization – requires in order to succeed and thrive in the months and years ahead.

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Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and keynote speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with executives and managers to help them develop practical leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development. Tanveer’s writings and insights on leadership and workplace interactions have been featured in a number of prominent media and organization publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Canada’s national newspaper “The Globe and Mail”, The Economist Executive Education Navigator, and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.

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