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Leaders must focus on "brainrest." Perspective comes only when the venue changes dramatically and you have enough time to mentally remove yourself from the usual office tensions and concerns.
As the former ceo and then chairman of French-owned Euro RSCG Becker, I spent a lot of time in Paris. With my laptop and PowerPoint presentations in tow, I was whisked off from 350 Hudson Street in lower Manhattan to JFK Airport, onto an AirFrance flight (a Euro RSCG client) to Paris, with Sonata capsules in my shirt pocket.
Sander A. Flaum
The driver, in his smart black suit, was always there at Charles de Gaulle airport to meet me and off we drove to Cedex (the location of Havas' parent company headquarters), outside of Paris. Once there, we joined the team in the conference room, set up our quarterly presentation equipment, had a great croissant and coffee, and gave our two-hour recap of the previous quarter and our outlook for the next one. Meetings continued through the day with the CFO, CEO, and other agency heads, followed by dinner and our overnight stay at an awful Holiday Inn in Cedex. Next day, the driver appeared at 6 a.m. to drive me back to Charles de Gaulle for my flight back to New York (thank goodness for Sonata). My view of Paris over those many years was seen through the backseat window of the limo—if I happened to peek up from my computer or BlackBerry to check out the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe.
Over the summer, my wife Mechele and I took our eldest grandchild, Rebecca, to Paris for her 13th birthday. Rebecca is a bright and beautiful fashion maven, so Paris—but of course—was her choice. Mechele was thrilled as well, being a Francophile, but I was not. I was hoping for Tuscany or the Algarve, but Rebecca was calling the shots on this one. Paris again? Ugh! My passport has more "France" stamps in it than any others by far.
But what a wonderful experience it turned out to be. With my wife and granddaughter, I was on vacation, and seeing Paris for what felt like the first time. There was no computer in my pack, no business to conduct—only unscheduled fun and seeing Paris through Rebecca's eyes. Musée D'Orsay, climbing the Arc de Triomphe, shopping in Bon Marché, dining at the Café Marley in the Louvre and at Le Bon Accueil. Wow!
Flying back, I thought about this special vacation and all I missed out on these many years. Like so many of my colleagues, I have a hard time escaping the heavy responsibility that comes with running a company, each day thinking about how to maintain that competitive edge. With all the issues that come up—helping employees with various tasks, staying on top of the most cutting-edge acquisitions, being there to handle important customers' issues—how does one ever go on a stress-free holiday? Like so many senior executives I know, I tended to act the part of the care-free vacationer, but always managed to sneak away to make that phone call or get on the computer. Could I have become a better golfer without my cell phone on? Maybe (but only maybe). A more tuned-in traveler, a more attentive listener? For sure.
What I've learned in my later years is that leaders must focus on "brainrest." Perspective comes only when the venue changes dramatically and you have enough time to mentally remove yourself from the usual office tensions and concerns. "Perspective" is a term that rarely surfaces in leadership articles. We spend our time analyzing "people" and "passion" much more than that other "P" word. But, much to my amusement, a great vacation—with no phones or computer— allows one to truly think of family and friends, the political scene, and the future. These are things that are sometimes tough to deal with when living in everyday work mode. But in the end, they are the things that make us more human, and in the end, more effective leaders.
Sander A. Flaum is managing partner of Flaum Partners. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org