It seems like everywhere I turn, ministry leaders are talking about or actively planning for a sabbatical in the near future. Granted, it could be the circles I run in. But, I’m inclined to think that the truer answer is that most of us are just now beginning the real recovery from the relational and emotional toll of the Covid crisis.
Our resiliency quotient—that ability to adapt and bounce back from the challenges of leadership—registers these days as marginal at best.
Hey I get it. Leaders were the glue holding a zillion pieces together even as their own rubber band was stretched beyond any functional elasticity. We are tired. We are weary of hoisting the beacon of hope. Our batteries still don’t recharge as fully or as quickly as they used to. We need fresh perspective that can see beyond the next week or month.
A sabbatical sounds like the perfect Rx.
However, if I can be brutally honest, I would tell you that the more leaders I observe taking a sabbatical, the more I see examples of an amazing opportunity wasted.
A sabbatical is not a panacea, but it might offer the prescription you need. If executed well, a sabbatical can be a transformative gift with the ability to recalibrate your life.
For more than 25 years I’ve studied how people engage their sabbaticals. I’ve debriefed countless leaders afterward and heard what worked and what didn’t. I’ve listened to stories of life-change and to the heartache of deep disappointment. I’ve served as a sabbatical coach for at least a dozen leaders and I’ve personally taken three sabbaticals, each significantly different from one another.
What makes a good sabbatical?
Over the next few weeks, I am going to post a whole series of articles designed as a framework to support the kind of sabbatical that would set you up to thrive in the next chapter of life and leadership.
Let’s begin by exorcising some misguided thinking about what a sabbatical is and is not.
A Sabbatical is NOT…
A glorified or extended vacation. Yes, it should include rest and play and a break from normal work, but it is not a fancy name for an escape from work.
A study-break on steroids. A good sabbatical should include deep thought-work, but it is not a manic-driven time to read or study everything you missed for the past ten years.
A fancy name for finishing your dissertation or doing the heavy-lifting of writing a book. Those big projects are merely different types of work under a different name.
A rescue or recovery plan for a leader in crisis. If you are in trouble, say so and get all the help you can from any place you can. That is hard work and maybe a needed preface to a good sabbatical, but it’s not a sabbatical. A good sabbatical includes restoration and renewal, but on the whole it is preventative and preparatory and focused on the future.
Authentic leadership flows out of who you are. A sabbatical is an investment in who you are and, as a result, impacts what you bring to the people and the work you lead.
A Sabbatical IS a Chance to…
Get out of the familiar ruts of ongoing responsibility to gain fresh perspective on what matters most in the next chapter of your life and work.
Address the health and needs of your body and soul.
Look back and capture what you’ve learned and how you’ve changed in recent years.
Make deep deposits in your family and your marriage
Prepare for any major transition(s) you see coming.
Press a giant reset button.
Since this is the first of multiple articles to prepare you for a healthy Sabbatical, let's focus on job one: Get clear about what you actually need from a sabbatical. The foundation to a good sabbatical is clarity about what you need to get out of it.
Over the next few weeks I will post insights to help you build a healthy sabbatical plan, but, until you are clear about what you need, you cannot plan your sabbatical or even talk about it with with others in a helpful way.
SABBATICAL ASSIGNMENT #1:
a.) Reflect on the list above of what a healthy sabbatical is and isn’t. Allow yourself to think outside the box about what is possible and what would meet your needs.
b.) Then, answer this question as succinctly as possible:
Looking back on the past five years and thinking about what lies ahead in the next five, what is it that you really need a sabbatical to do for you?
Links to the other 4 articles in this sabbatical series: