This blog post is the third in a series of blog posts on transformational leadership, to read the first post click here, the second click here.


3. “You see it often in people who return from a long, fishing trip. Often they're a little defensive about having put so much time to “no account" because there's no intellectual justification for what they've been doing. But the returned fisherman has a peculiar abundance of gumption, usually for the very same things he was so sick to the death the few weeks before. He hasn't been wasting time, it's only our cultural viewpoint that makes it seem so." -(Pirsig, 1999, p. 310)

Pirsig's point above is valid on a number of levels, especially when he puts the blame on our cultural view point of time off work. Consider these numbers:

  • 60% of American employees claim their company does not promote the need to take vacation days or even discourages the use of PTO
  • 51% of eligible paid time off (PTO) goes unused in the US
  • 30% of senior business leaders never or rarely preach the importance of taking PTO
  • 28% of workers fear that they will fall behind in their work if they take a vacation
  • 19% hope that their consistent attendance will increase their chances of receiving a promotion
  • 17% fear they will lose their job if they take their PTO
  • 13% see their presence as a way to outperform their vacationing co-workers

Clearly, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is a struggle in the U.S. It takes a special leader to truly understand the importance of time off and the benefits it instills on the employee and the overarching organization.

If we go back to the definition of a transformative leader, you will find that his or her goal is to help his or her followers achieve the upper levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Based on the statistics above, it is hard to believe that employees will be able to achieve Safety, let alone Self-actualization. People who are afraid of losing their jobs do not feel safe; co-workers see other's time off as a way to get ahead. In such a hostile work environment, I can foresee esteem issues as a result due to a lack of respect among employees. Moreover, employees who do not take time away from work and discover new experiences may find it difficult to self-actualize and discover their true purpose in life. This is because, according to Abraham Maslow, self-actualization is reached when individuals are able to escape complexity; they are comfortable with solitude and are able to appreciate the simplest things in life. I am not saying that one's job cannot be fulfilling, I am simply stating that self-actualization requires a break from the complexities a workday holds. Time away from the office provides an individual with a fresh perspective allowing him or her to keep their values in check. A transformative leader is able to read their followers (in this case, their employees) and is able to realize when an employee is on the verge of burnout—if not well before they reach that point.

Encouraging employees to take their PTO provides them with the time needed to rejuvenate. Like the fisherman, every once-in-a-while employees may get stuck in a rut, feel uninspired, and feel unmotivated. PTO provides an opportunity to reset. When employees come back from these breaks, there is a good chance they will come back stronger than ever and ready to work, or as Pirsig would say, with an “abundance of gumption."


Hackman, M. Z., & Johnson, C. E. (2013). Leadership: A Communication Perspective, Sixth Edition. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

Pirsig, R.M. (1999). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintained: An Inquiry into Values. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.