Sunday September 26, 2021 | 2 a.m
In my last column for The Sun, I explained why leadership, great leadership, is more vital than ever.
Leadership is a passion for me, which is one of the reasons I wrote a book about it and spent most of my 40 years of professional life in leadership positions. But one thing that is often overlooked when the topic of leadership is brought up is “relax and unwind”.
Leadership evokes the perception of a demanding person, managing people, programs, strategies and having to work long hours to get the job done.
It is, of course. No true leader gets by with a 9 to 5 mindset. Leadership means giving your all to your team, organization, business and stakeholders.
This is true whether you are in the public or private sector. But it always struck me that no one talks about the idea of cooking in relaxation and chilling out as essential parts of leadership.
My wife and I have just returned from a wonderful week’s vacation in Hawaii. We’re both retired now and don’t have the stress of having a job to return to while on vacation. My wife was a flight attendant for 33 years and I was both CIA and Microsoft before retiring after 40 years in total. We often comment on how his work was different. Sometimes stressful, to be sure, but she could take time off work and not bring her work home, which gave her the wonderful ability to relax. That was the nature of his job.
The nature of my jobs, and I suspect a lot of your jobs, is that you can’t totally come home and walk away from your job. There is always another meeting to prepare, another budget to plan, another HR question to deal with.
Part of your mind is still thinking about work. Mine certainly was. But after a while, constantly thinking about work takes its toll on stress and constant pressure.
While my wife and I were having breakfast one morning in Hawaii, we noticed a woman sitting in one of the outdoor seating areas on a laptop. It was obvious that she had finished her breakfast and was working on her laptop.
We left for some fun activities, came back in the early afternoon and the woman was still there. We had the chance to chat a bit and while she was enjoying her vacation; she had spent most of her day in Maui on her laptop. And from what we understood, it was not an emergency to deal with. It was routine.
For me, this is to be avoided at all costs. At home, yes, you still need to relax after work, but part of you is still thinking about work and sometimes you have to work outside of work. It comes with the territory. But when you are on vacation, your main duty is to relax, rejuvenate and rejuvenate.
When I was still working, when I was on vacation, after working out in the morning, I didn’t use my laptop for more than 30 minutes – a maximum. It was mainly to delete a lot of emails, so I didn’t go back to an inbox with hundreds of messages. I haven’t emailed my team or asked routine questions.
After 30 minutes, I never looked at my emails again until the next day. This accomplishes two things. One, you relax and recharge. You are no good to anyone as a leader if you are exhausted. Recharge yourself and come back ready to face the tough things that all leaders face. Second, you need to be an example for your team. If you’re constantly emailing while on vacation, constantly harassing them about the status of this or that, then when they go on vacation, they’ll do the same. They will think it is planned.
I’ve seen too many examples. I’m not talking about emergencies or urgent circumstances where even on vacation you have to get involved. It’s your job. I have been on vacation several times when an emergency in the world required me to engage with my team to manage a crisis. But other than that, I enjoyed the holidays. Life, especially in this time of our life, is stressful enough.
As a leader, it is your responsibility to be an example for your team. Give them the opportunity to relax and unwind when they go on vacation. Leave them alone, unless it is a legitimate emergency. And do yourself a favor: learn to let go and relax. You will feel better and so will your team.
Mike Howard is the former head of Microsoft’s security and spent 22 years with the CIA. He is the author of “The Art of Ronin Leadership – Strategy, Execution, Sustained Success”. He lives in Las Vegas.