At the end of my work day today, I dropped from a Zoom call, ending the process of unofficially handing off the responsibility for coaching, helping, and advocating for the members of the team I lead at work to one of their peers, who will be stepping in for me over the summer while I take my (overdue) sabbatical.
(She’ll be officially taking over leadership of the team when I sign off for the summer in a couple of weeks, and the team is in great hands.)
What remains at this point is the intangible stuff that you need to do to put things in a good place while you’ll be out for an extended amount of time: locating the “hidden work” you do every day, every week, every month, shining lights on those things, and asking for folks to step up and perpetuate things you have set in motion.
It’s a very different process than the one I went through almost seven years ago when I took my first sabbatical, and I wasn’t yet in a position of hierarchical leadership.
It was remarked during one of these calls today that I have spent more time preparing to leave for three months and come back than most people spend preparing places for their leaving permanently. I suppose that’s just natural, given that I am returning to work after my sabbatical break, and will step back into a position of being accountable for at least some of the things I have set aside while I’m out.
But I also think that—and this is one of the reasons I very much like the benefit of the sabbatical every five years—it’s a very good thing to remove specific pieces from the board every so often. It gives them a chance to recharge, relax, and refresh; to reevaluate their values and goals and then come back with renewed purpose.
It also gives the team a chance to find out what that person has been doing that’s not necessarily been obvious the entire time. Every one of us has things we pick up and run with at work that we just do, and we don’t necessarily crow about it or otherwise draw attention to that fact. It’s good to remove that presence from the equation for a bit, to see where the “missing information” is at.
What’s trapped in my brain that others could use in their day-to-day? What do I need to write out or explain for others that I’ve taken for granted? What approaches and thinking have I brought to the table that will now be missing?
The first time sabbatical came up, I was super-hesitant to take it, because I didn’t fully understand the proper questions to ask. Instead, I was asking things like “what if they find they don’t need me, and I come back and they say ‘dude; you weren’t needed around here, sorry!’” It turns out that’s not the right way to look at it, but instead see it as an opportunity to get some rest while the team looks at things from a slightly different angle for a while. Again: it’s healthy for both groups of people.
So mid-May begins another adventure: a huge benefit that I’m happy to receive from my employer.
It’s going to be a busy next couple of weeks, but I’m looking forward to unmooring myself from those things and taking some time to drift over the summer, spending extra time with my wife and children.