Why All Great Leaders Take Breaks from Work

Identify the benefits of taking regular breaks and the consequences of over-working. Discover the positive impact taking breaks has on your team and how that can make you a better leader.

All great leaders take breaks from work. And this is by no means a coincidence. There is good hard science behind this, as well as simple common sense.

In this short article, we’ll take a look at some of the reasons why you should be taking regular breaks from work and how a healthy work schedule can have a positive impact on your team and, in consequence, your leadership.

How being a workaholic raises red flags for a leader

In contrast to taking regular breaks from work, some leaders pile overtime on overtime. Often, they will even take pride in being a so-called workaholic. While putting in hours and working hard is admirable – and undoubtedly a vital ingredient to success – it can also be a sure-fire sign of work problems.

A lack of trust in the team

When a leader feels the need to get their hands into everything, are they really leading? Great leadership consists of empowering others to be great, giving them opportunities to excel, and then trusting that they will come through with a job well done.

What message are you sending the team by never taking a break? It is unlikely that the team members will feel they are trusted to get the work done when their supposed leader is always there to work with them, constantly overseeing their work, or simply doing the work themselves.

This lack of perceived trust will invariably translate into team members suffering from a lack of confidence and an unwillingness to take the initiative.

Ask yourself

Does your personal workload – the number of breaks you do or do not take – convey to your team that they have your trust and your confidence?

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Deficiencies in the ability to prioritise or anticipate

Allocating time and other resources smartly and effectively to ensure that a high-quality level is maintained and that all deadlines are met. this, in a nutshell, is the coveted skill of prioritising. Every great leader excels at this important skill.

However, if you find you are constantly working, and that you never or rarely take time off, this could be indicative of a weakness in your leadership skills – that of prioritising. For a more detailed examination of the importance of being able to prioritise, take a look at this article on how to prioritise work when everything is important.

Conversely, if you find that you are constantly working, it could also mean that you are taking on more than what you and your team can realistically handle. Invariably, this pace will be unsustainable and/or the quality and customer satisfaction will suffer as a result. More doesn’t always equate to better. In fact, it is often the inverse.

Taking on more than you and your team can handle is a clear example of failing to anticipate – failing to anticipate the number of resources at your disposal, and failing to anticipate the amount of work needed to complete the tasks or projects you’ve committed to.

Ask yourself

Are you good at prioritising?

How do your actions – notably regarding your workload – confirm or deny your ability to prioritise?

Poor scheduling equates to poor planning

A great leader understands how to allocate resources. This includes mainly, human resources: their time and their energy. A great leader can also anticipate potential problems and knows what preventative actions to take to make sure the problems don’t get out of hand.

All of this means that great leaders should invariably translate into a coherent, manageable schedule for him or her and for the team as a whole.

What kind of impression are you giving the team if you cannot create or abide by a coherent and manageable schedule? Does this speak positively or negatively on your ability to anticipate and plan for eventualities?

Your actions speak louder than words. And if your actions are saying that you are not very good at scheduling, anticipating, and anticipating, it will be difficult to elicit the trust and confidence you need from your team members.

Ask yourself

Are you using the human resources available to you in the most effective way possible? Are you being respectful of their time?

Are you putting your energy to use in the best way possible? Are you respectful of your own time?

Does the work schedule you maintain convey to your team that you are adept at planning?

The positive effects taking breaks has on your work

The science is in: taking regular breaks is not only good for your health, but it also has a significant positive impact on creativity, productivity, and overall quality of your work.

Keep burnout at bay

As much as you may love your job, there is such a thing as ‘too much of a good thing.’ Burnout is a very real threat. It can sneak up on you, destroy your morale, and crush your will to carry on, and you wouldn’t be the first to suffer the impact of burnout.

The most effective way to guard yourself against the crippling effects of burnout is to take regular breaks from work. Change your environment. Get your mind on other things – or, better yet, on nothing at all. Recharge your batteries, and be strong and motivated when you’re back at work, ready to tackle all challenges that come your way.

Burnout is often contagious. A leader suffering from burnout is likely to pass on the negativity associated with burnout to the rest of the team. This will invariably lead to a toxic work environment. Once toxicity has penetrated the workplace, it can be very difficult to eliminate. This is another prime example of prevention being the best medicine.

Burnout is preventable. And it is your responsibility as a leader to take the necessary steps to make sure that burnout and the toxicity it breeds do not infect your team.

Ask yourself

Do you find, at moments, your enthusiasm or motivation for your work dwindling? If so, what steps do you take to prevent that from happening?

Have you seen any evidence of burnout in your team? If so, what steps did you take to prevent that from happening? How may your actions – notably the work schedule you keep – have contributed to or possibly prevented this burnout?

More energy means more creativity and more productivity

Energy isn’t exclusively for running or physical exertion. We also need a lot of energy to process information, devise strategies, and develop new ways to handle new and old challenges.

Energy is also, in part, the fuel that powers productivity. A dip in energy will invariably lead to a dip in productivity.

Despite our best intentions, we don’t have an endless energy supply. We must continuously replenish our energy reserves, and the absolute only way to do this is by taking breaks.

A great leader is not a low-energy leader. And a leader who doesn’t take breaks will invariably turn into a low-energy leader. It may take a few months – even a few years – but it’s physically impossible to maintain the high energy it takes to be a great leader without taking regular breaks.

Ask yourself

Does an increase in your workload generally equate to an increase in quality?

Has your work suffered at all from a lack of creativity on your part? If so, how much, if at all, has your heavy workload and lack of regular breaks contributed to this decrease in creativity?

The positive effects taking breaks has on your leadership

Image: Pexels

The positive effects taking breaks has on your leadership

We’ve established that it takes a considerable amount of energy to be a great leader, and it is only possible to maintain a high level of energy by taking regular breaks. We’ve also established that actions speak louder than words. So with that clear foundation, we can examine other benefits that taking regular breaks has on leadership.

Fostering a healthy, sustainable culture in the workplace

In many respects, today’s workers are far more demanding than workers of previous generations. It is not enough to simply offer a good salary. Today’s workers place a premium on work satisfaction, work-life balance, company culture, and other less tangible qualities of a job.

Every organisation needs a solid compensation strategy, but even that won’t be enough to recruit and keep top-quality workers. In order to make sure your company and your team can recruit and keep the high level of workers it needs, a substantial amount of thought and effort needs to go into what kind of culture is being created in the workplace.

Ask yourself

Are you demonstrating to your team through your actions that you understand and appreciate their priorities – a positive work culture, healthy work-life balance, etc.?

As a leader, do your actions – notably the work schedule you keep – convey a healthy and sustainable way of working to your team?

Empowering others

Taking breaks gives other members of your team the space to step up.

The true litmus test of a great leader is what effect he or she has on the people working with or for them. A great leader will inspire greatness in others, and the results will be apparent. This means that a leader is only truly measured by the people they lead, and how productive and effective they are.

When you take regular breaks from work, the other team members will invariably have to fill in for your absence. They will need to carry out tasks without your supervision and even, in some cases, take initiative, and solve problems without your immediate guidance.

Team members who can do this – fill in for the leader when the leader is not present, take the initiative, solve problems without guidance or supervision – are empowered team members. They have been prepared and motivated to step up and get the job done. These team members are living proof of the quality of leadership on the team.

However, these opportunities are not available to the team – at least not as often or as obviously so – if the leader is constantly present if the leader never or rarely takes breaks from work.

One of the great benefits of taking regular breaks from work is that your absence allows other team members to step up. This gives them a sense of empowerment. They feel trusted. They feel valued. Their confidence will grow just as their motivation, engagement, and productivity will grow, too.

Trust fosters confidence which improves engagement

Taking breaks from work tells your team that you trust them to get the job done even in your absence. When employees feel trusted, they are far more likely to be motivated and engaged in their work.

Employee engagement is vital to a team. And here is how to measure employee engagement. If you feel that your team members are not engaged, it could be that they do not feel valued or trusted. Taking breaks and empowering them in your absence could positively affect employee engagement.

Ask yourself

Do your team members feel valued?

Do your team members feel trusted?

Do your team members exhibit a high level of employee engagement?

Does your work schedule and/or workload contribute to or take away from these feelings?

A change in perspective

It’s quite easy to fail to see the forest through the trees. Sometimes, we are too close to a problem or a process, and because of our closeness, we fail to understand the bigger picture. We miss what to others – investors, customers, colleagues – is obvious.

An advantage of taking a break from work is that it forces you to change your environment. It gets your mind on other things, and in consequence, it offers you a new perspective.

Sometimes, solutions are staring us in the face, but we are staring at the details and miss it completely. A simple readjustment of perspective can go a long way to opening new paths to new solutions.

Ask yourself

Have you failed to identify what turned out to be relatively easy solutions?

Are you always able to interpret events from the perspectives of others?

In what way has your schedule or workload contributed to or detracted from your ability to identify new solutions and appreciate an alternative perspective?

In Summary

Identify the benefits of taking regular breaks and the consequences of over-working. Discover the positive impact taking breaks has on your team and how that can make you a better leader.

About the Author

Russell Ridgeway is an American writer based in Budapest, Hungary. He writes in business, tech, and fashion, as well as creative fiction. You can reach him by LinkedIn and other social media platforms.

Team 6Q

Team 6Q