What a 3 week holiday taught me about leadership

Photo of Saurabh Singhal
August 3, 2017
Reading time
4 minutes

Having worked in multinational corporations my entire career, I often wondered about my colleagues taking 4-6 weeks of holiday a year, however this was not a very comfortable concept for me.

I recently came back from a 3 week vacation, which was the longest vacation for me – ever.

I was feeling quite nervous, anxious and guilty before going on this trip. Thoughts around whether the team will be able to close the quarter on budget, who will represent me at the management meetings, what will my team think of me, what will my manager think of me etc.

I was in for a pleasant surprise once I returned when I found that the fears were quite unfounded. This vacation did a whole lot of good to me as an individual and a leader.

So here are some of these learnings:

  1. Puts you on the “balcony”, away from the dance floor: As managers, we tend to get on the dance floor with our team. Involving ourselves in the day to day tasks, escalations, firefighting and so on. A vacation where you switch off, puts you on the balcony where you can see what’s happening on the dance floor from a higher perspective and a distance. You realize that the dance floor is doing just fine without you – maybe even better.
  2. Your absence can mean lot of empowerment for your team: You receive an email from the team and in the first few days they expect a response, a decision, or an approval from you. However, as days pass by, they start figuring out things on their own, look for information, start making decisions, deal with ambiguity on their own. This means a lot of empowerment and confidence building for them.
  3. You don’t need to respond to 80% of emails that you usually do: A common tendency or habit of executives is “zero inbox” and adding their “two cents”. I had also promised myself that I would switch off during this vacation. I muted my notifications on email, calendar and instant messaging. After coming back, when I organized my mail by conversation, I realized that a lot of heavy traffic of emails back and forth, which I was copied in on died/sorted on its own without my “two cents”.
  4. Things usually sort out on their own: Many day to day issues that might seem as escalations or complex matters where a leader feels compelled to bring his experience and intelligence get sorted out on their own without your involvement. This means that a leader can use their time more wisely in setting strategic directions rather than involving themselves in issue resolution.
  5. You don’t need to read all emails after coming back: One of my managers told his team that after coming back from a vacation he would delete all his unread email. His logic was that, if the issue is urgent and important enough, people will call him and ask for an opinion/decision/approval etc. This means no time wasted on clearing emails of the past.
  6. You can reflect on what has been happening:  A vacation gives you time to reflect on the bigger picture. Asking questions like; what has kept you and the team so busy in the last few months or the year? What was it that everyone was so neck deep in? What were the outcomes? What really matters?  Was it all about execution and getting day to day stuff done or is the team achieving and reaching big milestones?
  7. Taking time out to add value: A busy 14-hour work day leaves little time or energy to invest in yourself. How do we learn outside the job when doing the job? A vacation, lets you have that opportunity. I finished a couple of books during this time. This opens the mind. The value that you add to yourself is automatically added to the team.
  8. Truly switching off earns the respect of your team and encourages them to do the same: It could be quite intimidating for team members to see a workaholic boss; someone who sends his first email at 6 AM and the last email at midnight. The team respects work-life balance while understanding that work can be demanding sometimes. Switching off demonstrates a leader’s ability to balance. It encourages the team to be more efficient in what they do so they could achieve the same balance.
  9. Sense of fulfilment: You realize that all the hard work that you put in was worth it since it paid for your holiday and you could enjoy this good time for yourself and family.
  10. The most obvious, come back recharged and refreshed, a happier boss is a happier team, isn’t it 😉
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In summary, taking a long(ish) vacation might not be as scary as you think.

So, when and where are you going next?

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