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Powerful Holidays

San Martinho Do Porto, Portugal

What did you learn on holiday?

I have long been a proponent of the benefits of holidays as a chance to step back from the job and gain some perspective; a chance to sleep and catch up with family and friends; a chance to reflect and learn. Scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine, University of California and Harvard found that just six days away from work triggers genetic changes which dampens stress, boosts the immune system and lowers levels of proteins linked to dementia and depression.

I have just come back from a wonderful four-day jaunt to Portugal and I am struck by what I have learnt in those four days and how they can benefit me at work. There were two key things for me – how to build relationships and how to gain perspective through nature.

1. Connecting with Nature

On the second day into our break, we were accosted by rain, wind and cold. Being on the Atlantic coast allows you to feel the full force of nature. I have come to realise that the sea is my nature point. I think we all have something that can help us to connect to the earth – mountains, forest or sea. Mine is the sea. Watching the waves batter the shore, they reminded me of those white horses from the Guinness advert, as they pounded towards the beach, galloping and crashing.

The smell of the ocean, the roar of the waves, the wind on my skin, all made me feel quite small and powerless as I watched the full strength of the sea as it thundered. And this is how nature is amazing; it allows you to gain perspective, to understand that you are a small thing on this huge land mass, that needs you to work with it and not against it.

When I think about work, learning to step back and understand the bigger picture and also learning to find the commonalities and not the differences, will lead to more enhanced outcomes. There is more that unites us than divides us.

I have a difficult conversation coming up and I will be using the mantra of ‘there is more that connects us than divides us’, as a way of helping to navigate this conversation.

When you think about you connect with nature, how does it help you as a human being? What does nature enable for you? How can you use that in your work?

2. Building relationships

We were very privileged to visit to Portugal with the purpose of buying a holiday home. I had a number of estate agents lined up, who sent through property details and we had our plan. Most of these relationships were really productive as both parties sought to understand each other and the needs of each.

One encounter reminded me of how any of us can slip into bad habits of forming relationships. For this purpose, let’s call the Estate Agent Margo. Unfortunately, Margo adopted a stance that she knew what was best for me. She was patronising and treated me like a child, as she went on to assume that she didn’t need to send me any property details but that I would just do her bidding. As I challenged that assumption, Margo unfortunately decided to take on even more of a parent role and ranted at me as she moved into critical parent mode. Further interactions then saw me retreat into child mode, so that I could then be rid of her. When she was in critical parent mode, I noticed that my heart was thumping with adrenaline being pumped all around my body as I was shaking.

If Margo knew about David Maister’s trust equation, she may have acted differently. David Maister proposes that Trust is built up by showing Credibility (you know how to sell houses) x Reliability (you do what you say you will) x Intimacy (you try and build a relationship) / Self-interest (you don’t have your own agenda of just trying to sell a house).

Credibility, reliability and intimacy have since been found to show up in how leaders build trust (The 3 Elements of Trust by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, HBR, February 05, 2019). In Margo’s case, I can assume credibility and reliability, however, the ability to build a relationship like an adult and not like a parent, coupled with her own self-interest of ‘I have to show you houses based on what I think is right for you’ failed her.

The same applies to work relationships. Building trust is one of the core components, if not the most important factor in relationships. We all know sales people have targets to meet and if they are estate agents, they have to show people around houses, however, involving the other party like an adult and not treating people as if you know better will not serve you in the long run. The same applies to any work relationship.

When I think of how I can apply this to myself, I am thinking about a new client that I am meeting. When I look at the Maister Trust equation:

The area that I am failing is in credibility. I am making assumptions that they already know what I can do and how I can be useful for them. This helps me with thinking about my preparation and how I can demonstrate my credibility more quickly with them.

Think of a work relationship that you need to improve, which bits could you dial up (relatability, credibility or intimacy) and/or which bit could you dial down (self-interest) and see what difference it can make to your working life.

There were lots of other learnings on this short break including stepping up to my own personal challenge and anxiety of driving on the other side of the road in a left-hand car, as well as dealing with sexism, but they can be for another day. What have you learnt recently on your holiday/break?

Shauna McVeigh works at HCubed as a BPS HPC registered leadership Psychologist and ICF accredited coach. HCubed develops thriving individuals, successful organisations and communities through impactful change. Shauna works with individuals and teams so that they can understand themselves better and how they can bring their own genius to bear, as well as casting light on the shadows which may hold them back. She can be contacted on


Meditation and vacation effects have an impact on disease-associated molecular phenotypes. E S Epel, E Puterman, J Lin, E H Blackburn, P Y Lum, N D Beckmann, J Zhu, E Lee, A Gilbert, R A Rissman, R E Tanzi & E E Schadt. Translational Psychiatry, volume 6, page 880 (2016).

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, The 3 Elements of Trust, by HBR, February 05, 2019.

Maister, David H, Green, Charles H & Galford (2001), The Trusted Advisor.


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