By Kevin Wilde
The morning sun peaks out from a distant ridge and begins lighting the rock formations surrounding me. It’s day two of my annual hike and camp week in the Grand Canyon. I’m sitting on a rock, breakfast coffee at my side, and looking out in awe at the world I’m in. I feel an overwhelming sense of peace and place. This week has no connection to the modern world: no emails, text, Zooming, or Teaming. This is my annual retreat when I really mean “Out of Office,” my refuge to disengage from the noise, reflect, and re-energize. I am away.
Time to reflect and re-energize is in short supply for most leaders today, yet it’s critical to step away as a routine to regain perspective and a sense of yourself. We all need a refuge and away time to live our best versions; otherwise, the world will compress us into something less.
In the fast-paced, demanding world of leadership, the daily pressures and responsibilities can be overwhelming. Successful leaders often find themselves at the forefront of decision-making, problem-solving, and navigating the turbulent waters of their professional and personal lives. In such a high-stress environment, having a refuge—a place, routine, or activity that allows them to escape from the daily grind and recharge—is not just a luxury; it’s a necessity. My note here explores the importance of leaders having a refuge and how it can help them regain perspective, separate from the chaos, and ultimately, become better leaders.
The Need for a Refuge
Leadership is not a 9-to-5 job; it’s a continuous, all-encompassing role that can consume one’s life. The unceasing demands of the modern world, with round-the-clock communication and an ever-increasing pace of work, can quickly lead to burnout. It’s crucial to find an escape from the relentless pressures and demands.
A refuge, in this context, can take many forms. It might be a special place, a favorite retreat, a hobby, a sport, meditation/prayer, yoga, or a daily walk. Regardless of the form it takes, a refuge serves as a haven where leaders can liberate themselves from their daily burdens, even if it’s just for a few hours or days.
Leaders are often mired in the details, immersed in the day-to-day operations, and perpetually chasing goals. While these responsibilities are necessary, they can lead to tunnel vision and a lack of perspective. You lose your coachability and ability to bring your “A” game to the challenges of the day. A refuge provides the opportunity to step back and see the bigger picture.
Separation from Turmoil
Leaders often find themselves at the center of storms—organizational conflicts, employee issues, financial crises, etc. These tumultuous situations can be emotionally draining and may spill over into personal lives, creating a never-ending cycle of stress and anxiety.
A refuge offers a clear boundary, a space that is intentionally separate from the turmoil of work or personal life. The ability to detach from the chaos, even temporarily, is essential for mental well-being. Leaders who can do this return to their responsibilities with renewed purpose and energy.
Benefits of a Refuge
- Stress Reduction: A refuge provides an outlet for stress, helping leaders manage their emotions and prevent burnout.
- Creativity and Innovation: Stepping away from the daily grind can spark creativity and innovation. A refuge can be where leaders find inspiration, allowing them to think beyond the confines of their routines and responsibilities.
- Improved Decision-Making: Regaining perspective and separating from turmoil can lead to better decision-making. Leaders who can see the bigger picture and approach problems with a clear mind make better decisions vs. reacting to momentary pressures.
- Enhanced Well-Being: Taking time for oneself and indulging in a favorite hobby or pastime contributes to overall well-being. It can improve mental health, physical health, and personal happiness, which, in turn, positively impacts leadership.
- Positive Role Modeling: Leaders who take time to pause and refuge set an example for their teams. This encourages their employees to take care of their well-being and find their escape when needed.
Finding Your Refuge
While the benefits of having a refuge are clear, what works as a refuge can vary from person to person. Some might find peace in the quiet of a library, while others find solace in the roar of a racetrack. Here’s how you can find and cultivate your refuge:
- Identify What Relaxes You: Discover what truly relaxes and rejuvenates you. It might be a hobby you’ve always enjoyed, a place that brings you peace, or a form of physical activity that helps you unwind.
- Make It a Routine: Integrate your refuge into your regular schedule. Whether it’s a daily yoga session or a monthly weekend getaway, make it a consistent part of your life.
- Set Boundaries: Clearly define the boundaries between your refuge and work or personal life. This separation is essential for gaining the full benefits of your escape.
- Share with Your Team: Encourage your team members to find their refuges. Support their well-being and let them know that taking time for themselves is acceptable and encouraged.
- Book A Regular Getaway: Sometimes, a daily refuge routine isn’t enough, and you must disconnect in a bigger way. My annual canyon hikes usually take until day two before I decompress and start regaining a ‘big picture’ perspective of life and meaning.
- Stay Open to New Experiences: Your choice of refuge might evolve, and staying open to new experiences is essential. Be willing to explore different activities or places that bring you peace.
Seeing the Light
As the sun fully lights the Grand Canyon, I finish my morning coffee and review my day’s agenda:
- Pack up
- Take to the trail with my fellow hikers
- Find the new campsite for the evening
- Enjoy the adventure, enjoy the company, see beauty, be in awe.
That’s it. The simplicity of the day is a blessing and recharges me. Even when the trip ends and I reconnect with the outside world, I bring back a more focused, calm mindset to the work ahead.
Taking time to “refuge” is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. The daily pressures of leadership can be overwhelming, but a refuge provides an escape, a place to regain perspective, and a boundary that separates you from turmoil.
Leaders who recognize the value of their refuge invest in their own mental and emotional health and secure operating in their curious, coachable learning zone. In a world that continues accelerating demands, a refuge offers the pause button that allows leaders to reset, recharge, and return with greater clarity, purpose, and energy. It’s a hike worth taking.