Let's assume for a moment that you're nearing the point of transitioning or selling your business. Perhaps you should test the waters first to see how well you'd do. Do you have a successor? Do you have the right people in the right roles? Have you mentored and coached them sufficiently? Are they adequately trained to do their jobs? Do the company's processes run the company, or is it run by the well-intentioned but unpredictable whims of the managers and employees? Can you take a vacation without checking in every day? Do you take your smartphone with you everywhere you go? Are you mentally ready to begin the process of letting go? If you were to become disabled or die prematurely, would your business survive?
These were just some of the questions I was attempting to answer for myself in 2008. The value of taking a sabbatical had been thrust upon me because I had developed a chronic, degenerative muscle disease at the age of 45. And over the next decade, my muscles continued to deteriorate to the point at which mobility was becoming an issue.
I decided to take a sabbatical and travel around North America before my physical challenges got so bad that I couldn't enjoy the experience. I discussed it with my wife and we made plans to take six months off, buy a recreational vehicle and see the continent.
I had a number of goals in mind for our sabbatical. They included:
- Travel and do certain activities that were still within my capabilities before my disease made it even more difficult or impossible to do.
- Give my employees some space and a chance to run the business while I was away. Although I had worked at making the business less dependent on me, I wasn't sure if I had done everything necessary. This would be a good test.
I was able to reach both these goals. We visited breathtaking places in the U.S. and Canada that we'd never seen before, and my sabbatical did indeed reveal some cracks in the business.
I was thankful we had discovered the problems before it was too late to fix them or before someone offered to buy my business. And I consider the sabbatical one of the most important and rewarding decisions of my life.
The decision was inspired by a speaker I heard at a CEO training session. Craig, a successful entrepreneur from Calgary, had experienced incredible business growth in both revenue and profits and was sharing some secrets with our group. One was to take more time off.
He had complained to his business coach that he was exhausted and working ridiculous hours. When he admitted that he hadn't had a holiday in years and was feeling burned out, his coach told him to book some time off for a vacation.
"I can't," Craig said. "There's just too much to do!"
His coach was adamant and insisted that Craig start with a three-week holiday.
Craig returned from his vacation with renewed energy and drive, and was surprised to find that his business had done even better while he was away. He continued to increase his time off, and he now takes three months off every year and volunteers his time overseas in a Third World country.
Craig learned that, while he was on vacation, his senior management team felt more empowered to make decisions and were more accountable for their consequences, both good and bad. They rose to the challenge and began making decisions that would have ended up on Craig's desk had he been around.
He also found that when he returned he had new business insights and creative ideas to share that he wouldn't have generated had he been in the office with his nose to the grindstone. Those ideas propelled his company to even greater heights, making his time off more valuable to the firm than his daily labour could have ever been.
There are many reasons to take a sabbatical. Stefan Sagmeister owns a design company in New York. As a young man, he decided to close his business for 12 months every seven years and take the time to recharge and reinvigorate himself, his employees and his business. He explains in a TED talk that his greatest design inspirations have come to him as a result of those years off.
Your reasons for taking a sabbatical will be very personal. And I suggest that, in addition to the personal reasons, it can be a reality check for you and your business. Can you do well—can your business do well—if you're not there every day?
The toughest part of taking a sabbatical is making the decision and commitment to do it. Everything else is just process—figuring out what needs to be done and doing it. And you've been doing that for years.
So decide and commit to a sabbatical. You'll be glad you did.
Wayne Vanwyck is the founder and CEO of The Achievement Centre International in London, Ont., and Callright Marketing Services in Kitchener, Ont. He is the creator of The Business Transition Coach Forum, the author of the best-selling book Pure Selling and his recent book The Business Transition Crisis: Plan Your Succession Now and Beat the Biggest Business Sell-off In History. He has been training and coaching business owners for the past 28 years.
More columns by Wayne Vanwyck