We can only keep our minds firing on all cylinders if we step away and disengage now and then. If you get caught up in work and chasing unrealistic goals, you invite burnout and exhaustion. Burnt-out leaders lose motivation, become disengaged, and surrender their edges as creative problem solvers.

“A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking.” – Earl Wilson. 

Everyone needs a vacation now and then. We must all have moments to rest and step away to rejuvenate. This includes leaders.

For centuries, conventional Christian wisdom has held that idle minds are the devil’s workshop. The reason is simple: when you don’t occupy your mind with something, it tends to wander off and take control of its own workings. It comes up with the craziest ideas and fills itself with doubts, regrets, and fears.

The idle mind is a creative mind. 

Beyond those negative thoughts and emotions lies something different, however… Creativity.

Idle Minds Are Creative Minds

With our minds constantly occupied, we pressure ourselves into productivity. Creativity is spontaneous, and one cannot become more creative by simply expanding more effort in that direction.

When we work hard and keep busy, we give no room for our minds to freely roam around. Thus, we lose focus, motivation, and interest, and we disengage. Sustained focus has another counterproductive side-effect: selective attention. These effects hamstring our minds, create one-dimensional thoughts, and exclude everything else.

The idle mind may conjure demons for some, but science is convinced it can deliver great benefits for the rest of us. By letting the mind wander, we can:

  • Gain access to fresh perspectives
  • Make connections between seemingly unrelated ideas
  • Retain new information better
  • Focus more effectively

As a leadership coaching professional, these benefits strike me as things leaders could use.

The Idle Mind Is the Leader’s Friend

Many leaders find themselves chasing mirage-like points in their careers where things magically fall into place and allow them to take steps back and rejoice. It can be tempting to push further to reach this goal. The problem is, however, that this magical place does not exist. Chasing it leads to exhaustion, burnout, disengagement, and failure.

The benefits of well-timed vacations and rests for leaders are obvious.

Avoiding Burnout

A leader is someone whose job is to find creative solutions to problems. As burnout sneaks up on you, you find it more difficult to be creative and act as an intelligent leader. You feel exhausted and are unable to consider problems from alternative perspectives. Your creativity is stifled, and you are a shadow of your former self.

Taking a step back and forgetting about work-related issues can reset your motivation and get your creative juices flowing.

Taking Care of Your Health

When you burn the proverbial candle on both ends, you accrue a health-based debt you’ll have to repay.

Burnout and exhaustion can deal a blow to your immune system. You don’t have to be a leadership coaching expert to know that fighting colds all the time isn’t normal.

A healthy leader is an effective leader. 

If your burnout problem is systemic, going on short vacations may not be enough. You may have to tweak your everyday routine and make more time for rest and relaxation.

Improving Relationships

Executive coaching preaches that a leader must be a master relationship builder. Intelligent leadership relies on meaningful relationships. Developing meaningful relationships and rapport with employees and peers helps leaders push their organizations towards success.

When exhaustion and burnout take a toll on your relationships, you fail as a leader. Pushing yourself to the nth degree limits your leadership abilities and renders you ineffective.

Giving Others the Chance to Lead

A leader’s vacation often means time to shine for someone who takes over temporarily. By taking a break, you’ll reset your motivation and recharge your leadership, creating space for a high-potential employee to learn and lead.

If there isn’t anyone you can offer leadership opportunities to while you’re away, you may have to focus more on training reports.

Sowing the Seeds of a Healthy Organizational Culture

By taking breaks and taking care of their mental and physical health, leaders show employees how to manage personal resources. Intelligent leaders lead by example. Providing a strong example of healthy leadership is the best approach to creating and maintaining a positive company culture.

Since evolution has hardwired our minds for laziness, we must take breaks and step back from the action now and then to remain motivated and engaged. Teaching leaders to step away is a great long-term business coaching strategy.


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