When was the last time you stepped away from your job for more than two weeks? Not a working trip when you’re available by phone and email, but a true, unplugged vacation? Jan recently did just that — a four-week trip to her native Wales to reorder her priorities and recharge her soul.
For most leaders in the automotive industry, a four-week vacation sounds like a fantasy. Or if it’s possible, it sounds irresponsible. Who would lead the company? How would work get done? Yet Jan found that time off was not only an opportunity to refill her tank but also a chance to trust and empower her team.
“I don't care if you're gone for a day, for a week, or for a month, you empower somebody else to make decisions,” Jan says. “Allow others to step up and lead.”
Join the adventure on this special episode of the Automotive Leaders Podcast as Jan recounts long walks by the sea, watching sheep from a coffee shop, and the inspiration she took from some of the most exciting and innovative Welsh automotive companies.
Work culture in America too often sees vacation as a sign of weakness or a lack of commitment to a job, but current executives have an opportunity to break the stigma and celebrate authentic rest. Through a deeply personal journey through her homeland, Jan gives a blueprint for other leaders to follow.
Themes discussed on this episode:
- A contrast of American and European work cultures
- The new perspective found on vacation
- Creating Space for Creativity
- How to rewire your brain with new habits
- Finding projects that fuel your soul
- The team leadership benefits of extended time off
Featured Expert: Jan Griffiths (Host)
What she does: Jan is the founder and president of Gravitas Detroit, an organization dedicated to cultivating authentic leadership in the automotive industry by providing courses, workshops, speaking events, and more. She is also the host of The Automotive Leaders Podcast.
On leadership: “Leadership is identifying somebody to take your place. I don't care if you're gone for a day, for a week, or for a month. You empower somebody else to make those decisions.”
Timestamped inflection points from the show
[1:42] Back to her roots: Jan shares why she left her corporate job in the auto industry and, more recently, how that same motivation led her back to her native Wales for four weeks.
[3:36] Breaking the habit: Jan lists her priorities for her trip and the daily routines she wanted to change. More than a personal challenge, this was a battle against American work culture. Unlike many European nations, America does not guarantee paid vacation.
[7:12] Data behind the break: Taking more vacation days increases the likelihood of receiving a raise or bonus within three years. Jan explains why the work-first culture in automotive may be harmful in the long term.
[9:56] Into the whitespace: Leaders should be busy all the time — or should they? Jan reflects on what it takes for leaders to be effective and creative in their roles.
[11:10] Rewiring for new habits: It’s tricky to unplug completely. Jan shares her experience with adding a new rhythm to the start of her day.
[14:46] Hiraeth: A tour of Welsh businesses brought Jan to hydrogen-powered Riversimple, consultative agency Spindogs, and the Welsh Automotive Forum. Jan describes the Welsh automotive leaders who impressed her most during her visit.
[20:09] Passing the torch: Strong leadership is the ability to empower others in your organization to step up while you’re away. Jan explains what happened when she tried this for her business.
[22:40] The girl with the dragon tattoo: Jan reveals some personal updates from her trip to Wales and gives her advice to auto industry leaders.
Mentioned in this episode:
Welcome to the automotive leaders podcast, where we help you prepare for the future by sharing stories, insights and skills from leading voices in the automotive world with a mission to transform this industry together. I'm your host, Jan Griffiths, that passionate, rebellious farmer's daughter from Wales, with over 35 years of experience in our beloved auto industry, and a commitment to empowering fellow leaders to be their best authentic selves. Stay true to yourself, be you and lead with Gravitas, the hallmark of authentic leadership. Let's dive in.
Hello, automotive leaders listener, how are you today? I have a question for you. When's the last time that you stepped away from your life as you know it from your job for more than two weeks? Take a moment to think about that. For me, the answer was clearly never. I have never walked away from my corporate job for more than two weeks. In fact, I'm not even sure I ever took a full two-week vacation. That's the work culture that we have in America. In Europe, it's different. As you know, I grew up in Wales, and a two-week vacation was an absolute minimum. But there's something about the work culture, that we seem to think it's weak, or somehow we're not committed to our job, or we're not a tough leader, if we walk away from vacation without putting that obligatory, out of office message that says, I am out of the office on vacation, but you can text me or you can reach me, or my response to emails may be delayed. You know, really? What why is that? Why do we feel so obligated to still be on even when vacation is all about the exact opposite about not being on? It's a question that we really need to ponder about our work culture in our beloved automotive industry. When I left my corporate job, I did it for two reasons. I wanted to drive culture change in the auto industry and start my own business, which I did. And I also wanted to spend some time giving back to my home country. And when I left my corporate job, I didn't know exactly what form that would take. But it was important to me. Well, I'm here today to tell you that I did something that I've never done before in my life. Yes, I walked away from my life as I know it for four entire weeks. I went back to Wales for four weeks. And I want to tell you why. And I also want to share with you some of the unexpected benefits from doing that. We're all caught up in this relentless grind of work. We feel like we got to be on all the time, always operating at maximum capacity. But what if we took an extended break from the daily hustle? What would that look like and feel like? Well, for me, I made the decision to go back to my homeland. I just wanted to be there. I wanted to embrace Wales, to be along the coast of beautiful South Wales coastline, go for walks and just be quiet, quiet my mind and create some space and get away from this. Go, go go always on which and let's face it, it's the way most of us live in the automotive industry. And it's certainly the way I've lived my life, even when I quit my corporate job and started my business that have need to be on still stayed with me and I wanted to break it. And so I did. And so I went to Wales for four weeks. Now, there were a few things that I wanted to achieve. I had these ideas in my head. One of the things I wanted to do was I wanted quiet time to just be alone with myself and my thoughts. That probably sounds a little crazy, right? But I did. And then I wanted to spend time with family. I don't have a large family. I have a few cousins in Wales and some friends and I wanted to make them a priority. And I wanted to make walking a priority. Not working, walking, most of my career has been work has taken the priority front and center. And I wanted to change that. And quite frankly, a week or two weeks vacation isn't enough to make that significant of a change. And then I wanted to change some of my morning habits. I don't particularly like this morning habit that I have of turning on the TV. I like to turn on Morning Joe in the morning and have a cup of coffee. And then it just sucks me in. And then somehow I don't have the right mindset for the day. Now, I still run the accountability lab every morning at 7am. And by the time I get through that I've got my head on straight but that early morning, turning on the TV, I think it's because I like just the noise, just people talking in the background. I think maybe that's it. So I wanted to change that. And I wanted to create more space for reading. And I wanted to walk away from my business to get a different perspective, I want to make sure that I'm heading in the right direction. And it feels right. And I'm doing all the right things. So that's it. That was the objective. So let me tell you what happened. Well, when I get to Wales, I'm at my favorite spot, which is West farm. And if you ever want to take a vacation to South Wales, then I will put a link in the show notes. It's a beautiful place. It's an old farmhouse, it's over 500 years old, it's been remodeled. And in fact, my mother used to spend time there when she was a child. So there's some connection there. But it's been remodeled. So these old places, you know, they sound very romantic and lovely. But believe me, when you start to get in there, and there's heating issues or water pressure issues, they're not so glamorous. I grew up in a 500-year old farmhouse. But this place has been remodeled. So it's got all the modern conveniences. And I love to rent this apartment above a coffee shop. And it is right on the coast. So you take maybe 20-30 steps, and you're off the cliff and into the ocean. It's that close. And then the sheep walk by during the day. And it's lovely to just sit there and just be quiet when the coffee shop is closed. Be there along with your thoughts. Watch the sheep. I know that sounds terribly boring, but it's actually not, it's quite interesting. And just be with yourself and your thoughts. And it was it was truly a wonderful, wonderful experience. It's like hitting a reset button on your life getting off that treadmill and just resetting. And by disconnecting from work, you can relieve the stress. You restore your energy and you gain a fresh perspective. I really felt like I'd recharge my batteries. And I was ready to come back at it with renewed vigor and enthusiasm. But I think that's kind of obvious, right? If you take a break from work, you do come back refreshed. But there's also some data behind it. And I'll put a link in the show notes. Here's some data from Harvard Business Review article, and I quote, people who took fewer than 10 of their vacation days per year had a 34.6% likelihood of receiving a raise or bonus in a three year period of time, people who took more than 10 of their vacation days had a 65.4% chance of receiving a raise or bonus. Now that kind of flies in the face to our automotive culture. Do you remember the days when I certainly do when, particularly in a manufacturing plant environment where you'd see the real tough guys, they would say, yeah, so I haven't taken a day off in 15 years. And they would be proud of that. And everybody said, Oh, you're amazing. You know, we looked up to them like they were some kind of God, because they just devoted their whole life to work. Really? Those are the people that we looked up to No, no, no. Well, now the data proves that that certainly is not the culture that we should be following. And if you look at different countries, and the number of vacation days that they have, it's quite alarming. In Britain, there's a lot more paid vacation days that we have in the US. The US is at the bottom of the chart, and I'll put a link into that chart in the show notes so you can take a look. So Okay, back to the four weeks. So yes, lovely to be away from the pressure. Now am I going to tell you that I didn't do any work and I didn't check emails? Of course I didn't. I'm running a business. But what I did was a switch the priority in my life. I made friends and connecting with friends and family first, walking on the beach second, and then came work in I gave myself I would say about two hours every other day to make sure that clients were taken care of. And I took care of any important issues. So that's the big benefit. Number one is that you certainly get a different perspective and you restore your energy. Benefit number two, creating this space for creativity to thrive. When we're so immersed in our routines, it's so challenging to create that white space in your schedule. Take a look at your schedule right now and tell me how much whitespace is in there isn't that I'm guessing it's not a lot, right?
I remember the days of feeling like I had to fill that whitespace. Otherwise, I somehow wasn't doing my job of filling this mold, or this preconceived idea that I had in my head that I needed to be busy and be seemed to be busy all the time. And then I realized in a higher level leadership role, that that's actually not the case. You're a much more effective leader when you create whitespace, to think and to be creative. And you know what, I found myself falling back into that habit, even with my own business where I control my schedule, I feel this need to somehow try to fill it. So I stopped doing that. And during my four weeks, I created this space. So that I could think lots of thinking taking place on those walks along the beach and along the cliffs quite challenging walks. I will, I will let you know that. And then benefit number three, I wanted to rewire my brain with new habits. And they say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. I don't know if that's true or not, but it feels about right to me. And so a month, four weeks away is enough time to really make a commitment to yourself that you're going to rewire your brain and change a habit. And I did in the morning. I didn't put on Morning Joe because I couldn't get it on British TV. But I didn't put on the news, which I normally would have done. And I picked up a book and I told myself, every morning you were going to pick up a book and you were going to read a chapter and I did it. Now the big challenge was of course, we're going to continue doing it when you get back home to your normal environment normal routines. And it's still early days yet I'm still only about two weeks back. But yes, so far, so good, I'm staying with it. So that, you know that ability to rewire your brain just by moving yourself away from your current environment was tremendously empowering. It sounds like such a simple thing, right? Just well, I just want to pick a book in the morning. But it's been really hard to do it. Now I did it. So I did change my routine. And I did rewire my brain. Benefit number four, now this is a big one. Working on projects that fuel your soul. Wow, what does that mean? Well, when I quit my corporate job, I said I wanted to find a way to give back to Wales. And last year, I connected with an organization called Global Welsh. And global Welsh is an organization that connects the Welsh diaspora from all over the world. And guess what they needed somebody to lead their US hub. And I volunteered. And we launched the US hub earlier this year. And I couldn't be more excited about it. I can't tell you how happy it makes me to give back to my country in a number of different ways. And let me tell you some of the things that I did. The Prince's Trust organization focuses on young adults in underdeveloped areas of the country that need help that needs support. And I went there and I gave them my usual inspirational keynote. And it was awesome to see these young adults connect with me. And of course, I was able to totally relate because we grew up in the same country. Here's one of the unexpected things that happened at that event. I was there in theory to inspire them yet, they inspired me. I met a man called Tom Golic. And Tom faced all kinds of adversity. You cannot even imagine what this young man has been through. Certainly coming from a place of being unemployed, wondering what he was going to do with his life being overweight, heavily overweight and visually impaired. And do you know that young man has started his own business? It's called Pixel Valley. I'm gonna put a link in the show notes. It's amazing what he has done. And this business is thriving. He inspired me. It's funny, you go to these events, you're supposed to be the one to inspire the people in the room, but then you hear these stories, and they inspire you. That made me feel great to be able to do that. Now to the Welsh businesses I visited. The first one and this is where both of my passions for the automotive industry and whales combine. It's a company called Riversimple. And it's in a place called Llandrindod Well. And I'm pretty sure my American audience couldn't pronounce that. Riversimple is pioneering the next gen of zero emission vehicles. They use hydrogen, not batteries, and their thought process, well, to say that they're disrupting the automotive industry would be a massive understatement. More on Riversimple at a later date.
Staying with the theme of my combined passions for the automotive industry and Wales. What better place to visit than the Welsh automotive forum? I bet you didn't even know that existed, did you? Well, it does. And it's a powerful organization. The head of the organization, its CEO is Rob O'Neil. He is extremely knowledgeable about the auto industry in the UK and of course, Wales. But what strikes me about Rob is not only his command of the data of what's happening in the industry, but the passion that he has for driving the automotive industry for whales. And alongside him is Dana Williams. She's the project and Operations Manager. And Dana has a deep, deep background in manufacturing and engineering. She knows her stuff. She recently worked at the Aston Martin facility in St. Athan, which for those of you who don't know yet that's in Wales. If you want to consider putting operations or expanding operations in Wales, then the Welsh automotive forum is the place you need to go. And I'll put a link in the show notes. And the last company I visited, I guess I can't stay away from my automotive roots is Spindogs. I just like saying that Spindogs. Now, if you don't know, what Spindogs is. Spindogs is this incredibly creative and innovative company. They're based in Cardiff, which is the capital of Wales. And I met with their CEO, and founder. And they're all about transforming businesses through digital innovation. Well, okay, a lot of company say that. But they've come up with a particularly interesting way for automotive companies primarily at the dealer level, to be able to connect all of their different information systems, so that they have one dashboard, they can see everything that's going on in the dealership with one dashboard. And I'm not gonna go any deeper on that you're gonna have to talk to them to get any more information. But it's very, very creative. And they're just starting to get traction with some very big automotive brands. But it's so exciting to see that level of innovation and technology in my home country. And I'm sure as you can tell by the tone of my voice, it just makes my heart sing, to be able to be in their presence. And if I can help them in any way, shape or form, I most certainly will. None of this would be complete without spending time with the Welsh Government. And I was fortunate enough to spend time with their head of trade, and also their head of international engagement. And it makes me so happy to see the Welsh Government involved and engaged with different organizations. We all have the same mission, and that is to elevate whales on the global stage. I can assure you that's exactly what we're going to do. I can't tell you how great it feels. As to work on a project that fuels your soul. And when you align your work with your passions, you really tap into a deeper sense of purpose. And if you think about it, Google allows their employees to spend time working on a personal project, some of these projects may end up having an impact to the business, and some may not. There really is something to that. And so I would encourage you, if there's a project that truly fuels your soul, find a way to make it happen. I couldn't have done this in my corporate role. But now that I run my own business, I can do this, and I love making it happen.
The Welsh have a word. It's called hiraeth. And it means a longing, a yearning in the soul for Wales. And I felt it. And for me, to be able to work on these projects with the global Welsh. It makes my heart sing. And finally, benefit number five. When you truly disconnect for four weeks, you cannot have one of those emails that says, Oh, I'm out of office, but you can text me if you need to, if there's an emergency, because you're so important. No, no, no, no, no, that's not leadership. Leadership is identifying somebody to take your place, I don't care if you're gone for a day for a week, or for a month, you empower somebody else to make those decisions. And I did that, allowing others to step up and lead. And believe me, for me with my own business with my brand. I'm not gonna lie, it was hard. We had to release several podcast episodes, not only for automotive leaders, but also for our clients. And there are many, many different moving parts and different people involved. To get a professionally produced podcast episode, and the Gravitas Detroit podcast production team, I am thrilled to say they stepped up and they did not miss a beat. I did hold my breath for a second, I'm not gonna lie I did. But everything came off perfectly. I didn't follow up or check in on them not one time, they had the opportunity to shine. I empowered them, and they stood up to the challenge and executed. And I want you to feel that the next time that you're on vacation, or you go away from work for a day, a month, a week, or whatever it is, give somebody the opportunity to step up into that leadership role. And so here I am today. I feel like I've hit a massive reset button on my life, not just my professional life, my personal life. I feel today like I am exactly where I need to be. I feel truly 100% authentically, me. It's taken me a long, long time to get here. I hope that you embrace your authentic self a long time before I got to this place. So a couple of other things that I did that I debated whether or not to talk about on the podcast. But hey, if I'm all about being authentic, then I guess I have to tell you when you're going to find out anyway, if you see me at an event or you see me around town in Detroit. And that is I've been dying to do for a long time. I wanted to cut my hair like super, super short. I'm not talking like the short gray after the black Bob. No, no, no, I'm talking really, really, really short, like almost shaved. And so I did it. And then because I'm feeling the hiraeth of Wales and my pride about my home country, and the ability to give back to my home country that I've now found a vehicle do this. I'm so proud about that, that I decided to get a tattoo. I've never had a tattoo in the entire life. I'm in my 50s and I got my first tattoo. I proudly wear the Welsh dragon on my upper arm. And if you had told me, gosh, six months ago that I would have gotten a tattoo, I would have said no. I don't like them and I don't want them. But this is so meaningful to me. And so here I am, shaved her and my dragon tattoo. So, I guess I'm officially, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. How about that?
I would urge you to do this. Consider the immense benefits of taking extended time off work. By releasing yourself from constant pressure, nurturing that creativity, rewiring your brain, pursuing soul fueling projects and empowering others, you'll return to work with a renewed sense of purpose and drive. Embrace the power of extended breaks to achieve healthier work life balance, and unlock new heights of professional personal growth. And yes, do what you love. Love what you do. Shave your head and get that tattoo and be your 100% beautiful, wonderful, authentic self. I'll talk to you next time.
Thank you for listening to the automotive leaders podcast. Click the Listen link in the show notes to subscribe for free on your platform of choice. And don't forget to download the 21 traits of authentic leadership PDF by clicking on the link below. And remember, stay true to yourself, be you and lead with Gravitas, the hallmark of authentic leadership