It’s Saturday, and I’m on American Airlines Flight #787 (Paris to Charlotte) before heading home to my final destination in San Diego. Twelve days ago, my trip began with a speaking engagement at the Executive Growth Alliance Get Future Ready Summit in Oslo, Norway. A wonderful and enjoyable event for sure, yet not exactly a vacation. After leaving Norway, my fiancée and I joined two other couples in Bordeaux for dinner and to begin a cruise on board the Saint Louis Barge for a week of exquisite food, outstanding wine, and the kind of incomparable service one might expect a group of six guests would receive from a crew of four. It was the second time I enjoyed the privilege of floating from Serignac to Castets en Dorthe
on the Saint Louis. For me, there is nothing like it – turns out everyone else loved it, too.
My point isn’t to talk about my recent excursion so much as paint a picture and create some context for the power and value of taking a real vacation (whatever that may be for you) and why it should not be thought of as taking time off, so much as taking time on. Vacation, or going on holiday, isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity – whether you’re the CEO or anyone else who makes a contribution to the organization. No person or device will work indefinitely without needing to be recharged. Here are just a few of the benefits:
If you’ve ever been on a barge, you may recall that it travels at walking speed. The whole experience is about the journey, as opposed to the destination. You take time to close your eyes, connect to your breathing, and feel the calm of your resting heart rate. You open your eyes and start to notice everything – the sun shining through the canopy of the trees that line canal, the birds chirping, the fish feeding, the hum of the engine, and the calm breeze as it washes over your face. You have meaningful conversations and enjoy food and wine that feed the body and nourish the soul. Any stress you felt before you left home – gone.
With relaxation comes reflection. While you are living in the moment of your current surroundings, you can’t help but reflect. You take time to appreciate your family, friends, career and this one life you have to live. You ask yourself: How can I be a better partner, parent, friend, leader, contributor? You consider what’s good and right about your life, rather than complain about what’s wrong with it. It’s a rare time that allows for looking ahead and thinking about who you are, what you want, and how you can be a positive force for others.
Relaxation and reflection tend to do two important things for us: 1) They calibrate our perspective. When we get mired in the day-to-day grind of our work, no matter what role we play in our organization, vacation helps us pull back, see the bigger picture, and inspire us in ways we would never imagine. It allows us to separate what really matters from what really doesn’t – to embrace learning rather than judging and to always look for the best in others. 2) They are the forces that recharge our batteries, help us take charge of our lives, and give us the power to engage people, both personally and professionally, with a fresh new attitude.
The ROI of Vacation
Getting true ROI from vacation starts with a CEO and a senior leadership team who don’t make their employees feel guilty for taking it. This can cause employee stress before, during and after their vacation, which tends not to make it a vacation at all. This not only robs everyone of the benefits, but typically makes matters worse going forward. Vacations should be celebrated and, when possible, be no fewer than two weeks in length. As someone who has taken far too few two-week vacations over the course of my career, I can tell you the difference between one and two weeks is palpable. The relaxation, reflection, and rejuvenation described here don’t tend to kick in until the second week. Don’t do anything halfway, including taking time off.
If you’re the CEO, let me share what your employees may not want to share with you: You need time off, too! You really do. Why? To sugar coat it, it’s because they want you to get the same benefits I’ve described here. To be more direct, when you don’t take time off and don’t receive these benefits, then no matter how much your people may love you, you can become a pain in the ass. Take the time you need to relax, reflect, and rejuvenate. When that happens, you’ll be a better CEO, and while you’re gone, your vacation becomes their vacation – in a positive and productive way for all involved.
We’re All in the Same Boat
Saint Louis Barge owners Peter and Wendy Carrington love to say that the barge also serves as a metaphor for our being all in this together. The more we love and support one another, the better the journey. As I reflect on the Get Future Ready Summit, I think about Thomas Anglero, Director of Innovation at IBM Norway, who delivered a wonderful talk. It might surprise you to learn that his remarks had little to do with AI and other emerging technologies and everything to do with connecting with what separates us from machines – our humanity. If you don’t have a vacation planned now, what are you waiting for? As a CEO, find out who hasn’t taken a vacation recently, encourage them to do so, and ask how the organization can support them while they’re away. They’ll appreciate you more than you know, and everyone will be the better for it.
Written by Leo Bottary.
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