Perhaps the idea of “taking a break” is an odd theme for a blog series devoted to providing ideas and energy for the work of leading. However, sometimes you just need a break to get better at this role.

Is There Life After Leading?

I’ve had two periods in my career when I needed to shift gears and move away from the role of formally leading and serving others, to working on my own.

The first “break” was motivated a bit by leadership fatigue and a lot by pure ambition. During my first thirteen years out of college, there were only six months where I did not have responsibility for a team of some type. I was interested in what life was like on the other side of the fence, and I was just a bit tired of worrying about everyone else. I left a job and a team that I loved in pursuit of career and income growth, and I found both. The two-year hiatus from leading reignited my passion for the role, and helped me reflect on the mistakes and errors of youth. I suspect I did a better job during the next run.

I’m currently living and working through the second “break,” although I’m immersed in the topic and constantly working with people to support their development in this role. I also now recognize what a great privilege it is to support others in a leadership role. Armed with this improved context for the role, if and when I return, I suspect that I’ll do an even better job for my team members than I did in prior lives.

OK, enough about me. What about you? If you’ve been in a formal leadership role for awhile, it’s healthy to assess whether the stress fractures you are feeling or showing, might just be in need of some healing time.

5 Questions and Answers that Might Suggest You Need a Leadership Break:

1. How attuned are you to your own career goals? Priorities shift over time. What was important earlier in your career often seems trivial when looking back over a couple of decades. Are you achieving something worthwhile for yourself? If not, it might be time to try something different?

2. Are you getting better at your job? We all know if we’re doing our best and if we’re growing as professionals and strengthening our skills. If you are running in place, or worse yet, simply slowing down to a “getting by” speed, it may be time for a leadership break.

3. How motivated are you to help your team members? If your typical internal reaction to the constant bombardment of people issues is one of strain or annoyance, it may be time for a break. By the time you notice this in yourself, you can be certain everyone else around has noticed it.

4. Is going to work mostly good or mostly lousy? Short of being one of those fortunate souls who has found that place where work ceases to feel like work, the rest of us are left to aspire to slightly more good days than bad. If your scale tips overwhelmingly in the negative direction, it’s time to reassess what you are doing. While leadership fatigue may not be the root cause, the fact that things feel mostly lousy will impact your effectiveness as a leader.  Again, everyone around you will know how you feel about your job.

5. Are you sought out as a mentor and are you and your team in demand for important work in your firm? People vote with their interest and your executives vote with their demand for your talents and for your resources.  If things are quiet, the view on you may be less than ideal. If your brand is broken, it may be time to try something new. (In this case, it will also need to be somewhere new.)

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Knowing yourself well enough to understand when you need to switch gears is important for all of us, not just for leaders. The role of leader carries some extraordinary responsibilities and challenges, and the cost of your own fatigue may be a high toll for everyone around you.  Know that your leadership skills are timeless and your experience is priceless, however, your energy is finite. Stepping away to refuel once every decade or so may be important to your health, happiness and success. You’ll know if and when it’s time to go back.