By Michael Gunther
It’s 6:00 am the day before I leave on my sabbatical. My excitement and anxiety are palatable. As I start to think about my anxiousness, I wonder why I’m so worried, and it hits me that I’m about to leave my business (that I’ve built over the last 10 years) without any contact for seven weeks.
I’ve taken sabbaticals before. In fact, I used to try and take one about every five years, but my last one was more than 10 years ago when I moved to California and took four months off. This time is different—I have a team of people running my small business (there are only 10 of us), and I’ve been the main rainmaker and revenue generator. I think anxiousness is self-imposed when I truly consider the preparation we’ve done to make sure the team not only survives but also thrives in my absence.
As I was writing this last article before my trip (knowing I had two more articles due in addition) I decided to enlist two of my team members, Paden Hughes and Kaitlin King, to provide their feedback on the process and experience of leading the organization when I depart. A fourth article in this series will be my perspective upon my return.
I’ve been planning this sabbatical for more than a year. When I first threw the idea out there even my own spouse wasn’t sure we could make it happen. We are both business owners of small companies, and trying to figure out how we could actually leave and cover our roles within our own firms seemed a little daunting at first. But being goal oriented, I knew the old adage ‘if there’s a will, there’s a way’ was all I needed to keep reminding myself whenever I felt unsure of my plan.
As it all unfolded over the past twelve months, some unexpected transitions and behaviors began to appear within my team and myself. I had team members stepping up to the plate. They wanted to not only show me that they could handle their role when I was gone, but they wanted to prove that they would exceed my expectations when I was away. Other team members all-of-a-sudden exhibited new leadership skills and started to take on roles and responsibilities on their own—months prior to me leaving. In addition, I noticed my team began looking at issues they would typically come to me with, and creating their own solutions as if I wasn’t there to assist them.
One last component that has been evident is our increasing use of our core values within the organization. We have a set of four values (that grew from something our interns created last fall) that our team revised and has been using more consistently than ever before. They provide guidance on a daily basis. I know I’ve even been suggesting, as various situations arise, how we should approach challenges or opportunities based on our core values. One of our team members, Erin, actually created a spreadsheet to identify the issues that happen when I’m away: identify the issue, what core value(s) they used to solve the issue, what they learned from it, and the results.
I feel like I’ve become a better manager and leader over this last year, and it made me wonder if I weren’t going on this sabbatical would I have grown as much…I’m not sure honestly. We’re also having the best year in the history of my business. I think there’s a pattern here. I need to take more sabbaticals—just kidding—well, maybe not. The pattern is that I’ve relied on my team to step up to the new challenges and they’ve jumped in with both enthusiasm and excitement. They’ve truly impressed me, and continue to! I look forward to hearing about all their adventures upon my return.
When was the last time you took a sabbatical? I know the ‘off the grid’ for a longer than typical period of time always re-energizes me, generates new ideas and directions for myself and my business, and provides me with renewed passion for the next phase of my life.
As I was leaving, my parting words to my team were that no matter what issues arise, if they use our core values as a guide to make their decisions, I trust them to handle it appropriately. Ciao!
This is Part I of a IV Part Series from Michael Gunther about his entrepreneurial story and how being raised in a large family has influenced his career. Michael Gunther is Founder and President of Collaboration LLC, a team of highly skilled business professionals who are dedicated to assisting proactive business owners to build profitable, sustainable businesses through results-oriented education and consulting services.