In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli talks about one of the lessons he learned from Italians on the value of disconnecting from work and the value of that disconnection to deep thinking required for leadership in disruptive times.
-The Italians take their holidays seriously
-Busyness doesn't help us in business
-Leadership requires disconnecting and reflecting
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Now, the first Thursday of every month, I reflect on something that I want to share with you. In addition to the conversations that I have with the change makers and the thought leaders, and this month being that it's August, I want to reflect on one of the many lessons I learned from my international trip.
Some of you might know that I spent a dozen years of my life traveling extensively to 70 plus countries, half of those going to them repeatedly. And I learned a lot of great things from every single one of the countries. I cherish those memories and the relationships that were established.
One of the countries that I had a pleasure of visiting repeatedly, in addition to the wonderful food that people are incredible but I also learned a lot of business lessons there, is the wonderful country of Italy. It was one of the first countries I got a chance to travel to for business.
And I remember over a period of time that first year working with a new CEO of the operation in Italy, where we went back and forth on a very regular basis. I knew that he was going to take August off, but for some reason, that first August, I had to call the office to try to leave him a message. I didn't want to reach him on his cell phone so I called the office. The phone rang and rang and no one answered. I called a couple of times, and same thing. So I was surprised there wasn't even an answering machine. There was no one in the office.
So in September, when I was visiting Milan, I sat down with Sergio. And I said, "Sergio, no one answered the phone when I called." Sergio said, "No one works in August." I asked them, "Don't you think it would be good to at least have an answering machine or some way people can leave messages in case they call your office?"
And to this day, I remember Sergio's eyes as he had this totally puzzled look. And he asked me with his beautiful Italian accent, and I'm not going to try to imitate it here, he said, "But Mahan, why would anyone be working in August and why would anyone call them?"
And while at that point, I didn't really get it. One of the things I realized is that Italians along with some of the other Europeans cherish the fact that they can disconnect for a period of time. Focus on their families, focus on themselves. And not only they aren't focused on work, they know no one else is focused on work either.
There's a lot to be learned from that. I haven't gotten to that point many years later. However, I did learn the lesson that a lot of times with the busy-ness, most especially now, with email and social media, we end up constantly running after things without the opportunity to disengage, disconnect, think, take a breath, reflect and have deeper thoughts. Which is why practices like meditation practices like taking a vacation when you don't answer emails. Practices like leaving the cell phone off can help all of us become more effective.
I aspire to get to the point that Italians are at, where I can take the entire month of August and not focus on work. However, I can still learn a lesson from them. That life is not how many emails we answer every time. How many weeks we worked.
My wonderful dad had a pride point when he talked about the fact that in over 30 years, he hadn't taken a single day of vacation. I hope none of you see that as something to aspire to. And it's not something I aspire to.
Being that it's August we should all consider not only taking time off. Going to the beach and doing our emails while sitting in front of the ocean. While that's nicer than being at home and doing the emails, I hope we can take some time to disconnect, disengage, do some deep thinking. Because that's what's lacking in so much of our lives. So let's learn this lesson from the Italians. Let's take time to totally disconnect and be surprised for a week or two, why would anyone even bother reaching out to me at that time.
So hope you get a chance to do this in August because leadership is in part learning. And we need to do a lot of learning. In part it's doing, and we need a lot of doing. But in part it's disconnecting and reflecting. Take some time in August to disconnect and reflect.