July 2020 | Scott McCreadie, PharmD, MBA | Founder, President and CEO
A few months ago, I returned from a 6-month sabbatical. My sabbatical covered a lot of distance, including time in Alaska, British Columbia, along with several months in Australia and New Zealand, and finally, landing in Las Vegas. Through my travels, I experienced incredible sites, made a lot of memories, and some new friends. Most importantly, the time away provided me clarity, and afforded me time to reflect. Now, after my return, my business and team are stronger because of it.
Why Take a Sabbatical?
There were several reasons I decided to take a sabbatical. Mostly, I just needed a break both personally and professionally. The company I founded was turning 15 years-old, and while we’ve had tremendous successes, there was a lot of stress, hard work, and anxiety along the way. Being an entrepreneur and an owner of a company means that there is no one else to make the hard decisions or to kick problems to. My employees and customers count on me to make the correct decisions, protect their livelihood, and ensure the company survives. There were many personal sacrifices in those 15 years to ensure I didn’t let anyone down.
Preparing for a Sabbatical
Before taking a sabbatical, I needed to make sure I had a solid team in place so the business wouldn’t falter while I was away. That is something that takes years of intentional development to achieve. In the early years of the company, I remember being afraid of hiring people who were smarter or more knowledgeable than me. While that may seem counterproductive, the fear of being vulnerable if someone left the company was real. I worried I might not have had the resources to replace the talent, and I would be left picking up those job responsibilities.
That fear certainly held back our progress early on, and fortunately, I was able to overcome that concern and began to hire the best talent I could find and afford. This included hiring experienced pharmacists to lead our software product solutions. The value of having professionals who have worked in and understand the environments we are serving cannot be overestimated. Our clients and prospects welcomed collaborating with our people who have worked in their settings and can speak the same language as they do. Hiring top talent also led to supporting a remote workforce. I discovered to find the best talent, we needed to look further than our own city and location.
Hiring a talented team was only the first step. I also needed to be able to retain them, knowing consistency and company knowledge is critical for success. To keep the team in place, I knew I had to treat them well. Compensation is important of course, but individual respect, professional growth opportunities, company ethics, and management stability are even more essential.
I was, and continue to be, fortunate to have the dedicated and talented team that allowed my sabbatical to happen. Being able to let go is an important prerequisite for a successful sabbatical. I knew I could trust the team to handle the daily business needs. Great employees want to be empowered to handle responsibilities. Granting that empowerment leads to employees that act more like owners who take increasing responsibilities for the success of the business.
Enjoying the Experience
I very much enjoyed my travels and spent a lot of time in beautiful settings in four different countries. I took a lot of pictures – please click on the links to see some of my favorites. I began with great hiking in Alaska and exploring Vancouver over the first month. Afterwards, I spent three months in Australia where I explored Brisbane, drove up the coast of the Coral Sea, snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef, visited the Daintree Rainforest in Far North Queensland, witnessed incredible sunrises and sunsets in Darwin along with some great didgeridoo music at the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, made a number of new friends in Perth, and hit the must-sees in Sydney including the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. In New Zealand, I explored both islands spending a lot of time in ChristChurch and seeing the majestic mountains found in Queenstown and Milford Sound before exploring Wellington then departing out of Auckland. Finally, I got to spend a month in Southern California and Las Vegas where I joined the Vestigo team at ASHP’s Midyear Clinical Meeting. It proved to be a great transition for re-joining the team.
What can be Accomplished
During the sabbatical, my team performed well. Over the first few weeks, I stayed in relatively close contact as the team and I adjusted. I had my laptop and all my electronic tools with me so I could jump in and help solve problems. It didn’t take long to see that they were prepared to lead and execute the business strategies without me (which perhaps caused some fleeting anxiety!). After a few weeks of things going well, and partially due to the significant time zone differences, my contact with the team lessened significantly. I still held brief meetings with a couple team leaders, but otherwise I was hands-off.
The sabbatical gave me a break from all the challenges, but it also gave me time to think clearly. In Perth, the weather was beautiful almost every day and I would sometimes take 4-5-hour long walks and process things in my mind. As a business owner and executive, time to think and strategically plan is critical as you grow your business. It’s so easy to get bogged down into the daily details around sales, supporting your clients, managing your staff, and handling all the unexpected crisis and emergencies. A sabbatical allowed me to step back from most of that and contemplate where the business is, where it should be going, and what adjustments needed to be made to get there.
I was able to make some key business decisions and to better think about our future during my time away. I made the tough call to exit one line of business which allowed us to accelerate other parts of our company. This determination allowed us to better allocate human and financial resources to support our strategic direction. These decisions would have been much harder without the clarity of thinking that a sabbatical enables.
When I got back, I was able to see the growth in my team. The leaders of the group had stepped up and led in my absence. As I was starting to assimilate back in, a problem would come up and I would get that look from another team member saying “I got this” before I could work on it. It helped me to realize that I perhaps wasn’t allowing everyone to perform to their full potential if I was jumping in to solve the challenges. While it’s still hard not to take over and tackle issues, I am slowly getting better at letting my team shine.
Here are some key lessons I offer to those in executive positions who are considering a sabbatical:
Plan for a sabbatical even if it seems impossible now. Planning to get your business to run in your absence is critical for a well-functioning company. Not only does it give one a sense of peace, it sets you up for succession planning and increases the value of the company.
Hire a team that can run the business. The human resources of any business are key to success or failure. Make sure you hire the best people you can and work to balance skills and personalities to have a high-functioning team.
Trust the team that you hired before your sabbatical. As an owner or other leader, you must trust the team and give up some control before your sabbatical. People rise to expectations and new leaders will develop when the opportunities exist. Do this over time to coach people as they are assuming more control.
Take the sabbatical. There’s no better way to show that you trust your team than to take a much needed break and allow them to fully manage the business. If you are the founder, time away is needed even if you don’t feel it. Don’t feel guilty that your team remains working. You have earned this and need it. Really live the experience – this is not a working vacation. During the 6-months away, I was largely removed from the daily operations, but was available for consulting as needed. I was able to enjoy my travels fully with time to do the strategic thinking during my rest days.
Don’t take away your team’s responsibilities after the sabbatical. Let your team continue to manage the day to day with the business after your return. It would be pretty demoralizing to the team if you came back and resumed the activities you had them do in your absence. Use your time to learn new skills and focus on strategic planning for the future.
I’m very fortunate to have had the opportunity to take a sabbatical and will always remember it. I believe my team and my company are stronger for it.