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Attention Leaders: Take a Real Vacation. It’s Not About You, It’s About Them.

Updated: Sep 2, 2019

5 reasons you shouldn’t half ass your vacation

Get off your devices on vacation. If not for you, then for them.

How many of you can relate to this?  Someone on your team is preparing for vacation. You're a great boss, so you tell them to have a fantastic time.

"Don’t worry about checking in," you say. "We’ve got your back." And you mean it.

Then a few weeks later, you go on vacation.  Although you genuinely believe your team and others should check out, you can’t help yourself. You check in every day - sometimes multiple times.

I've totally been guilty of this.  And it’s one of the most selfish things a leader can do.  When you don’t take a vacation seriously, you’re not a hero.  Here’s what you’re actually doing:

1. You’re being a hypocrite. Let’s not beat around the bush.  Telling others that they should take a real break, then not doing so yourself, is inauthentic. If you don’t practice what you preach, you are imply that you’re more important than everyone else. After all, the rules don’t apply to you. Authenticity and sincerity are two of the most critical tools of a good leader.  Don’t destroy them in one fell swoop!

2. You’re disabling your team. Your vacation is more than just a collection of precious moments for you and your family. It’s also a golden opportunity for others in your organization to shine. This is their chance to handle a new project or tackle an issue they haven’t handled before.  I could tell hundreds of stories about successes that happened when a leader was out.  Stars you never knew existed, begin to shine in a leader’s absence. Your team loves the fact that they helped you disconnect, and they’re proud of the new things they learned. Don’t rob them!

3. You’re being selfish. Sorry to be blunt, but there you have it. How? Examine your reasons for checking in, and see if they’re anything like mine. Often, when I find myself checking in or stepping in while on vacation, I know full well it’s really about me.  I know that it will help me keep my inbox clearer. It will help soften the re-entry. But guess what?

Emails are boomerangs.  For nearly every email you send (or respond to), at least one more comes back.

We are all guilty of complaining about the volume of email we get, yet WE ARE THE PROBLEM.  

In her book, Sleeping with Your Smartphone, Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow writes that the reason we constantly check in has less to do with being a "workaholic" and more to do with the positive reinforcement we get from feeling indispensable. So, you know, selfishness.

Actually worried about catching up?

This can be solved by doing simple things like blocking off time on your calendar when you return to get back up to speed.  

Or have your assistant (if you’re lucky enough to have that support) help manage your inbox when you’re out.

And if you absolutely can’t help yourself, check in “off hours” so that when you send emails, people don’t think you’re in the mix real-time and start throwing them back.

4. You’re setting a bad example. When you go on a “fake” vacation, others will notice immediately. At best, they’ll see you as insincere and wishy-washy.

At worst, they will see this as what’s really expected of leaders in your organization. Way too many leaders say that they believe in disconnecting, yet refuse do it themselves.  Then they’re surprised when others also check in while on vacation.

According to a report by Project: Time Off, employees report that their bosses have the biggest influence on whether or not they use their vacation time - even more than family. Furthermore, 65% say they receive mixed messages about time off. You know what leads to mixed messages? Fake vacations.

Fake vacationing is not just a bad example for people under you, it’s also uninspiring for your boss. Yes, I know why many of you check in – it’s to show your boss that you are a force to be reckoned with.  

Guess what? Your boss doesn’t want you checking in either. Truly disconnecting, inspires them to do the same. We’re all human. We look to other humans – no matter where they are on the “food chain” – to inspire us to do better.

5. You’re not giving yourself time to rejuvenate that precious brain of yours.

People, I’ve got a wake-up call for you.  You are not in your leadership position because you are good at managing scorecards, meetings, and tasks.  

You were selected as a leader to inspire. You were also selected because you are smart.

And like any muscle, if you don’t rest and revitalize your brain, you will burn out.  

Some of my best thoughts, ideas, and energy for that next big thing come after I’ve taken a vacation. Heck, they also even come after I’ve simply paused and taken a run.

Vacations shouldn’t just be seen as a reward.  They should be seen as a necessary therapy to keep your business mind in the best shape it can be.

Not convinced? Read more about the nitty-gritty brain-boosting benefits of time off in this article in Scientific American.

I encourage you to try it out and watch for some of the positive side effects.

  • Ask people when you return about how it felt when you checked out.

  • Observe others in meetings to see if they grew or gained a new connection due to your absence.

  • If you’re a work addict and this is still freaking you out, first start experimenting with disconnecting on weekends.  Or start by only checking in once a day when you are out.

It’s time to grow up and be a big girl or boy…and that means having the guts to take a vacation.

Is there a time where you saw positive results after you or someone disconnected?

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