Are you overwhelmed? Each day, a new series of challenges present themselves; events threaten your bottom line; and your carefully nurtured culture is undermined. Even with that pile of unanswered phone calls and inbox overflowing with email, focus is everything. So, contrary to what you may think—maybe it’s time to take a break.
For fab’rik CEO Dana Spinola, all the warning signs were there.Overworking. Tinkering in other people’s portfolio. Getting myopic. One day, her trusted CMO, Lisa Dimson, confronted Dana on her mindset, suggesting she do the unthinkable – unplug and regroup. The suggested “sabbatical” seemed like a ridiculous idea. But, they sent her home and took her email account away a few days later. As we discuss on this week’s CEO Exclusive, it was actually the perfect course of action.
Refreshed and reinvigorated, Spinola came back from her break ready to take fab’rik above and beyond the competition. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons this fashion boutique brand has grown so quickly in a very crowded and competitive marketplace. By getting back in touch with her “inner visionary”, this leader discovered a path to greater success, and one that was right there in front of her the whole time.
Recognize When it’s Time to Step Away
It’s that most dreaded of phrases in any industry – burn out. From the time you start your day to the moment you punch out and leave the office, you are running, running, running. Dimson could see how the grind was affecting Spinola, and she felt the need to speak up…even at the expense of her career. “I thought I was going to lose my job,” she said, trying to find the best way to tell her partner and friend that she needed a break. “Dana is a visionary,” Dimson adds, “she has big dreams for fab’rik, and in my mind, I thought that it’s time for her to take a little break or we’re not going to get to the next level.”
For both leaders, it was about protecting the brand. Dimson was afraid Spinola would be unable to see the path ahead. “If you don’t slow down and pause, and take a step back and look at that customer and understand the business, you won’t know how to guide it to the next level,” she thought. So it was time to have a heart to heart with her CEO, and gauge her reaction. As a devoted part of the business, she wanted to make sure that everything was on track…not just for success, but for Spinola personally.
The CEO admits she was off her game. “There were a billion signs,” Spinola states, from late nights and early mornings in the office, to emails and texts sent out at 2AM. Then came the moment and that fateful inquiry. “Are you okay?” the CEO remembers being asked, and her reaction? “I don’t think anyone has ever asked me this.” Recalling a recent conversation with her mom, Spinola could see that she had been ‘on the go’ since she was young, and it was clear she needed time away. “That’s when Lisa speaks,” Spinola recalls, “she’s the most eloquent, beautiful, caring person, but powerful, and she’s like, could I offer you a sabbatical?”
You CAN Afford to Take Time Off
For Spinola, however, the first concern was “can I?” Could she really step away from the hectic pace she herself had created and find space to decompress and rejuvenate? Dimson had the answer once again. “I said, you’re the boss, there are no rules here. We can make up our own rules.” So the sabbatical was now a reality. But how do you take time for yourself when you haven’t done so before? Spinola found it hard at first. “The first day I woke up and I was like, what do I do?” she says. After cleaning her closet and pantry, she took the biggest step of her proposed downtime. “I digitally detoxed,” she said.
That’s right. No phone calls. No texts. No emails and no online meetings or obligations. “They didn’t even let me in the stores,” Spinola states, “It was like cutting the umbilical cord, truly.” Before she knew it, she was getting back in touch with her life…her ‘real’ life. “I let my nanny go,” Spinola says, “I did all these things where I was ‘I’m just going to become a person.’” Before she knew it, two months had passed by. For many in the business world, that seems like an impossibility, but Spinola has a response to such naysaying.
Her motto became three simple words – ‘yes you can.’ “There is a way,” she points out, “I don’t care if it’s that you are asking your mom to come and run stuff for a week. If you don’t, what will happen is scarier that the idea of how I would logistically figure this out.” Indeed, the whole idea of a break was based around the concept of shaking things up, of getting out of a rut of endless meetings and constant company headaches and returning to the place where the vision for the company first took hold.
Rediscover Who You Are
Soon, Spinola became comfortable with her new position. “Whatever happens in a couple of months happens in a couple of months,” she realized, “and for our company, it was beautiful what happened. I think you have to be open to the idea that it might go really well.” Then began the systematic decluttering, the removal of over 120 coffee meetings from her to-do list, and a restructuring of how to rededicate her time.
The Sabbatical also helped her listen. “You’re like, this is an incredible company. I’d lost sight of the idea of how people talk about our company, I wouldn’t even listen,” she said. “They’d be like, your company is amazing and I’d be like, I know, I’ve got to go to work. I can’t listen. So I sat back and listened to people; what do you think about fab’rik, tell me about this brand, and I’m listening like out of body,” and in doing so, she rediscovered her passion.
“Lisa and I talked through, she was my person through this,” Spinola points out. “She said, come back at a high level. Come back as the visionary that you are and I got to dream again and it was like, this is where I’m supposed to be. So, I got out of the weeds and got back to the place I’m supposed to be, to lead the company.”
By allowing yourself the opportunity to regroup, by realizing that the downside of staying the course is perhaps worse than the possible problems of being out of the loop, the leadership of fab’rik saw a way to recapture their vision. Like they say, sometimes you have to step away from something to see it more clearly. For Dana Spinola and her staff, this meant recognizing when it was time to take a break, and allowing themselves the luxury of doing so. And it’s worked…and worked well.