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Jeff Cates is the president and CEO of Intuit Canada.
Jeff Cates is the president and CEO of Intuit Canada.

LEADERSHIP LAB

Unplug. It’s good for the mind, body – and business Add to ...

Summer is finally upon us and like many Canadians, I’m soaking up the sun and the great outdoors. In fact, just last week I was on vacation with my family, and I took that time to do something I only do a couple of times per year: I disconnected myself from my phone and e-mail. I checked out – and in turn, I recharged.

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Like many leaders, I know how hard this is to do. Our drive keeps us connected to all aspects of our business, and removing ourselves from day-to-day tasks is challenging. We remain connected because of our motivation to successfully and aggressively grow our business and ourselves, to challenge and manage our teams, and to ensure we remain responsive to other business leaders within our organizations. Besides all this, let’s face it: Our smartphones make it easy to keep us constantly plugged in.

But unplugging is a must. At the core of our role is the responsibility to continuously solve problems and address challenges. The only way to do this effectively for the long term is to remove ourselves from the day-to-day every once in a while.

We need time to refresh and relax the mind and body. To follow our passions and personal pursuits outside the office walls. Whether it’s extreme canoeing or spending time with family – which are two of my personal favourites – taking time for ourselves is essential.

Here are a few suggestions that I’ve personally found help me to unplug:

Learn from your morning run and shower

Over the years, many leaders have admitted some of their best ideas came to them not in a boardroom or at a desk, but in the morning shower. It’s that brief time when we’re disconnected and can’t be reached, and when the mind moves from analytical mode to creative thinking.

The same can be said about vigorous exercise. As a long-distance runner, I cherish this time when I’m away from work, pushing my body and self-discipline, focused only on the cadence of my running and breathing.

While these are only moments, they’ve helped me learn the power of disconnecting. A “work-free” vacation only amplifies the benefits of unplugging and recharging ourselves.

Establish rules and hold yourself accountable

Each milestone your business and you have reached has been a result of your personal accountability, so take the same approach to your holiday.

If you must check e-mails or make a call or two, that’s okay, but set reasonable limits. For instance, set aside an hour a day to temporarily reconnect and resolve to never go over that. For example, I let my family and employees know in advance if a holiday – like the one I took last week – is completely work-free. If it isn’t, I set aside specific blocks of time, usually first thing in the morning, to get my work done. Transparency and discipline are important. If you are vacationing with others, let them know about your designated work times before your trip begins, so they can work around it.

This transparency is important with your employees as well. We must lead by example and show employees that it’s okay – and essential – to disconnect on vacation. If you’re sending e-mails from the cottage, your employees are going to think they need to as well.

Trust your colleagues and employees

Success is a group effort and yours depends on giving the people around you permission to make smart decisions in your absence.

Empower your teams and colleagues to act as your proxy and make decisions on their own when you’re away. It will give you the break you need, give them a sense of ownership, and illustrate how you trust them, all of which are vitally important to everyone’s sense of well-being.

Plan ahead: If you plan to leave your smartphone at home, you need to plan ahead.

Clear your schedule: Ensure your teams are aware you won’t be attending meetings while you’re away.

Hand off documents: Assign roles to team members to keep projects moving in your absence, and ensure your proxies explicitly understand what’s expected of them.

Communicate: Send e-mails to your team letting them know you’ll be away. A common practice at Intuit is sending out a calendar notice to team members letting them know when you’ll be out.

Activate ‘out of office’: Make sure that “out of office” message is on. Inquiring minds will want to know who to reach while you’re gone.

Do something meaningful: Now to the vacation itself – the reason you’re disconnecting. While many of us like relaxing dockside, I’ve found the greatest vacations are those where you remain active, curious and inspired. Not only is it rewarding, but it helps keep your mind off what’s happening at the office.

I recently joined a close friend on a mission to Peru and Bolivia that receives aid from his organization, Partners International. It was an incredible experience, and I enjoyed the sense of fulfilment you get from engaging in philanthropic events, in addition to an incredible adventure. From sharing a meal with natives of a remote Amazon tribe, to inoculating a llama in Bolivia, there was no shortage of new experiences and lasting memories.

In the long run, disconnecting from work will help you de-stress, clear your mind, and stay sharp.

What’s more, in your absence, your team will have the opportunity to prove that they’re capable, and feel gratified with your sense of trust in them. All told, you will come back as a better leader.

Jeff Cates is the president and CEO of Intuit Canada (@QuickBooksCA), a provider of business and accounting software.

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