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Tue 27 Sep 2016 09:33 AM

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The CEO Coach: is it a vacation or a guilt trip?

Why do CEOs only justify vacation days when they are near burnout? Embrace the holiday, and come back more productive than ever before

The CEO Coach: is it a vacation or a guilt trip?

Why do CEOs only justify vacation days when they are near burnout? Embrace the holiday, and come back more productive than ever before.

Holidays are time for highly-pressured Gulf-based leaders to take vacations, many ‘cooling off’ by heading out of the region. Down time is crucial for creative leaders to disconnect from work, break with routine, play and rest. Re-energised and inspired, they return ready with breakthrough insights to further transform their organisations. Maybe.

Recently, I conducted a straw poll of 20 C-suite clients on their vacation time, specifically the length of time they take off, the frequency of ‘checking in’ to work, the impact of those two choices on family and their perceived level of tiredness right now.  They are ex-pats and nationals, in a variety of industries, both locally owned and multi-national.

The results showed that holidays vary in length from one week to three week chunks, 90 percent check in daily (mostly through email and sms),  80 percent were exhausted or “running on empty”.

It appears that the majority of these leaders conform to the 'always on' leader prevalent amongst senior executives today, and perhaps share the teenager state of FOMO (fear of missing out).

“No matter where you are, you always think you should be somewhere else” as one put it. “Am I tired enough to justify this holiday?”  is another common belief, that vacations are a reward for hard work and the deserving must be deeply fatigued when departing.

My clients’ responses seemed to confirm this – on a scale of one to ten, ten being totally exhausted, 25 percent chose eleven. The disciplined leader takes a restorative break before reaching the reactive stage, because it is that rest enables them to move into the creative stage once more.

Leaders should be fuelled by creative energy and the problem with the grimly-determined, but dog-tired, leader is that as fatigue increases, output moves from the creative stage into a mechanical one, finally settling into a reactive phase. Creativity is almost non-existent in this state, and work relationships suffer because of it. “I have forgotten the word ‘nurture’ as I grow. l snarl at those around me”, said a respondent.

While on vacation, all respondents recognised and attempted to limit the impact of being in touch with work on their families. “My daughter gets annoyed when I’m looking at my phone. Every response seems like it can't hurt as it only takes 30 seconds or so, but it all adds up to major damage to the quality of my personal time.”

So, how do you stay appropriately connected and still be re-energised effectively?  Focussed presence and whole-heartedness is the antidote for exhaustion.

Ring-fencing an hour early or late in the day is a common strategy, and to switch back into holiday mode it's a good idea to physically move away from where you have been working. Close a door, turn off a light, and find closure. Use verbal affirmations “I have done enough”, “I deserve this free time and I’m focusing on my family needs now (and for x hours)”.

Switch off the smartphone. Notice when your mind wanders to work and compassionately acknowledge it, while changing your physical state (interrupt your thought patterns with something else). Even something as simple as clapping your hands and standing up is enough to jolt you out of work mode.

Being constantly busy is actually a mask covering laziness. When we do what we’ve always done without question, we are resigning ourselves to a familiar '(not so) quiet life’ that is comfortable, despite its discomfort.

Changing a ‘never switched off’ approach to work requires discipline to  focus on what’s most important right now, allowing leaders to really savour the benefits of  “a holiday where there is nothing to do and all day to do it in!”

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