Have you ever returned from vacation only to be greeted with a seemingly infinite number of messages and emails? You come back refreshed and energized only to be buried alive in things to do? I’ve even caught myself asking, was worth taking the time off? The answer of course is yes, getting away from work and completely disconnecting is critical to being an effective leader.
In 2006, Ernst and Young conducted an internal study of its 50,000 employees and discovered that for each 10 hours of PTO taken, year-end performance review scores improved 8%. In 2012, a Harris Interactive survey found that American workers left an average of 9.2 PTO days unused, which equals 73.6 hours. Based on Ernst and Young’s study, that equates to a 59% improvement on a performance review score that is NOT being realized!
The recession has made an impact on people taking time off and disconnecting. Many fear losing their jobs if they take too much time off or don’t make themselves available while they are off. Fear may make that a reality, but research says otherwise.
Effective leaders take time off. Effective leaders disconnect. The most effective leaders make it possible for all the other members of the organization to take time off and completely disconnect. Effective leaders make sure that no one in the organization has any unused PTO at the end of the year.
Take a Break!
Two guys are chopping wood with an axe. One guy is going non-stop, determined to finish the job. The other guy takes several breaks, taking a seat beneath a nearby shade tree, seemingly taking a nap at times. At the end of the day, the guy chopping wood non-stop became very frustrated when he realized that the guy who took naps had chopped more wood. When asked how he did it, nap-guy confessed that while it might have looked like he was napping, he was actually sharpening his axe. Abraham Lincoln used to love telling this story to make a point, and the moral of this story is still meaningful today. The truth is, to become more effective at anything, leadership included, you need to take breaks.
Anders Ericsson at Florida State University researched high-performing individuals and found that if you want to be a high-performer, you need to spend less time working on being one. Ericsson examined musicians, athletes and other high-performing individuals and found that those who excel at an elite level typically practice their craft uninterrupted no more than 90 minutes at a time. Elite producers begin in the morning, take a break, and rarely work more than 4 ½ hours. Ericsson concluded that you must prioritize your most important work to the time of day when you have the most energy and monitor your energy level.
Another study tracked employee productivity and found that the top 10% of the most productive employees did NOT work more hours that other employees. The most productive employees took 17 minute breaks for every 52 minutes worked.
So how does this research make a leader more effective? If nothing else, it should encourage all leaders to take breaks throughout the day. Being an effective leader doesn’t mean that you have to log more hours than anyone else. Stop going pedal-to-the-metal from early to late. Take breaks during the day. During those breaks, sharpen your axe. Get out from behind your desk and strike up some casual conversations with others in the organization. Take a walk. Clean the bathroom. Visit a patient. I’m sure there are lots of ideas you can think of, the key is to do what high-performing leaders do, take a break!
What Will Your Legacy Be?
Leaders are not remembered for what they do for themselves, leaders are remembered for what they do for others. The most effective leaders are more interested in the success of others than their own success. The most important leader is not necessarily the person with the top position on the organizational chart, the most important leader is that individual you have the most interaction with, the person you turn to when you need advice, support or direction. A leader’s legacy is the legacy of many, not the leader individually.
Legendary motivator, the late Jim Rohn, talked about making a mark on the world and being remembered for making the world a better place. Rohn developed and taught nine philosophies for leaving a legacy:
- Life is best lived in the service of others.
- Consider others’ interests as important as your own.
- Love your neighbor even if you don’t like him.
- Maintain integrity at all costs.
- To improve, you must take risks.
- You reap what you sow.
- Hard work is never a waste.
- Don’t give up.
- Keep going.
The more you embrace these philosophies, the more you mentor and coach others to embrace these philosophies, the more you will be known and remembered as an effective leader.