Can a CEO or founder ever really take a break from work?

- November 10, 2022 3 MIN READ
jumping for joy on beach

Ben Lipschitz, CEO and co-founder of FoodByUs, reflects on the benefits for his business when he finally allowed himself to take a proper break from work after six years without a real holiday.

As the leader of a fast paced and high-growth tech startup, you accept it’s a role that requires plenty of your focus and attention. If you really want your business to do well, you also need to commit to  bringing the ‘founder energy’ – the hunger for success, the boundless inspiration and sense of purpose that everyone else in your team feeds off.

Taking a holiday? No chance!

Or so I thought until recently, when I finally bit the bullet and took a few weeks’ leave; the longest I have taken since co-founding FoodByUs in 2016.

My concerns about taking leave have never been about my confidence in the team; in fact, quite the reverse. However, as a founder you’re always ‘on’, always thinking, always wanting to make sure you’re available if someone or something needs you. Taking a break just doesn’t really factor into your thinking.

So, when I did return after my break, I was pleasantly surprised at what had resulted, both personally and for the broader team at large.

relaxing luxury holiday vacation

Benefits of taking a real break from work

Taking that time out allowed me to clear my mind, and to step back from being deeply immersed in the business day-to-day.

Most founders and CEOs are pretty driven individuals. However, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s difficult to keep up that level of energy indefinitely. Best case, you can start to lose focus or strategic vision. Worst case, you become a less effective leader or even burn out. Either way, it’s not good for the business or your own health and wellbeing.

Yet, the notion of taking time off – whether it’s an afternoon here or there, or a proper holiday break – can be incredibly challenging, especially for leaders who pride themselves on embodying the dedicated work ethic that they try to inspire in their team.

The good news is that it doesn’t need to be too overthought, and with a bit of planning and preparation, it can become a positive milestone in the life of the business.

Taking a break not only re-energised me as co-founder and CEO to ensure I can continue to bring my founder energy every day; it has improved our overall performance by empowering our teams to become more robust and independent.

Trust, accountability and performance have all improved because when you remove yourself as the CEO, the team have no choice but to figure things out on their own – and there’s a pride and trust that comes from this.

When I came back from vacation, I asked my team about their biggest learning in my absence, hoping to learn from their insights and get their perspective on how the business was operating. All the feedback was the same: “You should go on holidays more regularly; we’ve got you covered!”

Woman waving to workmates as she leaves the office

How do you reach this point?

By building the business every day to effectively operate without you.

This begins at an org chart and responsibilities level, but ends with making sure there are clear systems and processes for all the things that the company needs to function effectively. Whether it’s financial approvals or recruitment processes – going away will help make sure that even when you’re back, there’s less that needs to bubble up to you.

Do you have senior leaders in the company who can lead their staff as well as work cross-team? Are people empowered to make decisions, or does everything flow straight to the top? The more established your organisation, the more important it becomes to entrust those around you to pick up extra workload and decision-making. To the point where if you were to step out, you would barely be missed.

At FoodByUs, we invest in a culture of constant training in skills and leadership, including hiring at the graduate level with a dedicated program of fast-tracked development, and challenging employees to learn and step up into more senior roles. That’s not only great for their career development, but also leaves us exceptionally well placed to cover for key absences. Including me, it turns out.

Confidence is contagious

I have several direct reports and they administer leadership training to their own teams, but also work closely with me on their own development. They know my management and communication style and my expectations, so that when I’m absent I can have full confidence that the business is in safe hands.

In practical terms, that means I can not only take a break, but also switch off the phone and laptop and get the full benefit of a holiday, rather than feeling like I have to check in every day.

Speaking of confidence, that’s something I’ve noticed around the office since my return. A little bit of additional empowerment puts a spring into everyone’s step, and there’s the belief that we’re now a more robust and durable operation that can cover for any absence.

My next holiday definitely won’t be as long coming as the last one, and I’ll approach it with the confidence that it’ll be a win-win scenario for everyone.

This article, written by FoodByUs CEO and co-founder, Ben Lipschitz, originally appeared on Kochie’s Business Builders and is republished with permission.