Do Great Leaders Take Breaks?

Do Great Leaders Take Breaks?

“COVID doesn’t take a break” was a phrase used by one of my executive coaching clients last week. He was not the first one in the last few months to comment on the fatigue and frustrations of leading today. There is a common theme occurring where leaders feel pressured to work more. “If COVID doesn’t take a break, then neither can I”! 

 if we look closely, we will see there are countless leaders who go unacknowledged and under-appreciated for their efforts

No More Built-In Breaks

In normal business and academic cycles there are built in breaks—lunch breaks, coffee breaks, spring break, summer breaks, fall break, holidays, etc. Yet, with COVID’s arrival in March 2020 (in the U.S.), there haven’t been any built-in breaks. Leaders have worked non-stop. Most leaders say they have worked more since March than they ever remember working in their adult lives. Working from home/remotely has meant working 14+ hours a day with no breaks.


So, do they take breaks?

Leaders live in a a constant tension…


We know breaks are needed. We know we should take more of them. We know our bodies and minds get depleted. As an advocate for leader-health and business health, it is an essential ingredient to performance. However, in reality, for high-achieving people/leaders there is a constant tension between performing, achieving, serving and health. This tension is not all negative. This tension is creative and stimulating as much as it is fatiguing.


The leaders and business owners I work with live in this tension. They dive in with head, heart, and hands. They dive into the point exhaustion. 

Some days they manage the above tensions with ease, and other days they are perfectly OK sacrificing their physical and mental health in service of others. It doesn’t matter if I’m working with a leader in healthcare, automotive, academia, entertainment, technology, or education, the willingness to live in the tension for the greater good is inspiring.  Some leaders are driven by purpose and passion to serve; some do it because they are good at it;  some do it because it’s rewarding and stimulating. Whatever their motivations for pushing forward despite the tensions, 

they tend to go unacknowledged and under-appreciated for all that they do and sacrifice. 


We aRe wired to judge

We are also wired to rise above

We have a tendency to critique, criticize, judge, and focus on the negative. If a leader near us makes a decision we don’t like, we criticize. If the same leader attempts to fix this decision, we criticize again. If a leader stands up for the greater good and stands up for what they believe in, we still find ways to put them down. The human brain is wired to judge and label. On one hand, it is a way we survive and stay safe. But we have another part of the brain that can rise above this and reflect and choose a different response. Criticizing and judging is overdone and unproductive; we simply won’t move forward as a country or individual’s if we stay in the negative. It is easier to judge. It is easier to complain. It is easier to notice the gaps and failures of others. It is much harder to pause, listen, look at our own bias, look at our own failures, and to intentionally choose to a different, more thoughtful response.


There are plenty of examples of poor leaders, but if we look closely, we will see there are countless leaders who go unacknowledged and under-appreciated for their efforts, big and small. If we look closely, we will see leaders around us who choose to rise above, who choose to sacrifice their own health in service of others (us).

Leaders don't always get praise and validation when they are on their path and living their purpose

the greats keep going

they serve


COVID doesn’t take a break, but neither do our great leaders. The health-conscious side of me wants to coach these very leaders to take a break and take care of themselves; that’s what I thought I would write about when I started this piece. However, I am more interested in all of us looking more closely at the examples of great leadership happening during this time. Last week’s loss of RBG hit a lot of people hard—why? I’m sure there are many reasons, but a simple one is that we are mourning the loss of one of the greats. RBG is an example of a leader who worked tirelessly and passionately for what she believed in—a leader who served the greater whole, the greater good. A leader that didn’t always get the praise, validation or appreciation she deserved along her path. We grieve when the greats leave us. We grieve when they leave because we fear they are lost to us. They are not lost. Their lives meant something, then and now. With this, please take time to honor the greats among us today. Take time to honor your bosses, employees, leaders, and partners—honor and appreciate them now. 

greive the greats
learn from the greats
acknowledge the greats while they are living
this is your homework

Appreciate Greatness,

Dr. Shanna