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CEOs need to take a break

hero syndrome

Firms benefit when executives take a total break, so get lost, all you CEOs says Annelize van Rensburg.

Top executives who are all work and no play do their companies no good. They can harm themselves, their families and management teams. Research shows a full break from work is essential for creativity, health and the ability to acquire fresh perspectives.

International studies increasingly challenge the “hero syndrome” common among CEOs who believe their firms can’t function without them.

What’s more, a growing number of executive coaches now advise clients to unplug and unwind if they wish to add continued value.

The warning is particularly topical as South African bosses prepare for the end-of-year vacation, though, if international studies are any guide, many will remain in touch with the office and their teams.

In the US, only 25% of those in employment take all their allocated vacations while 61% who take time off do some work while taking a break. One US study of small business owners says nearly two-thirds of those planning a vacation also plan to take work with them.

Cellphones, tablets and other devices often connect the vacationing executive to his or her work, negating vacation value.

Yet there is growing consensus that executives derive optimum benefit by taking a complete break, travelling and observing different ways of life.

Adam Galinsky, professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, says separation from familiar environments bestows new perspectives, while Sir Richard Branson notes: “When you go on vacation, your routine is interrupted. The places you go and the new people you meet can inspire you in unexpected ways.”

Jennifer Deal, from the Center for Creative Leadership, has studied the executive vacation and says bosses who take a break come back more creative and better able to think long term.

Unfortunately, mounting evidence about vacation benefits often goes unheeded.

One survey by talent company Korn Ferry found that in a sample of 250 executives, 84% had cancelled vacations because of work pressures.

To combat the pull of the office some commentators believe CEOs should re-imagine the vacation. For instance, the boss’s total absence can be a “test” as it can test the robustness of talent strategy and succession planning.

A CEO vacation is also an opportunity as it gives other managers a chance to make decisions and build confidence.

If a business can’t survive a CEO vacation, something is wrong.

There are now indications the macho commitment to 24/7 executive availability could be starting to wane.

A recent US study says more executives are taking vacations and turning off their phones.

About half of CFOs polled in the research said they didn’t check in with the office while on holiday – up from 25% two years earlier.

At CFO and CEO level, the need to set the right example is also emphasised in vacation research. If they stay connected 24/7, other managers see this as a signal that working flat out is the only way to go, risking burnout along the way.

The underlying message for CEOs?

Just get lost this holiday season. Pull the plug. Vanish off the grid … for the firm’s sake, your sake and the sake of your team.


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