It is becoming more and more common for successful executives and entrepreneurs to take time off from their careers for a year or two, and sometimes more. These career sabbaticals are just that, a break from their normal ‘go-go-go’ leading the troops. Reasons for doing this are multifold, including tending to family members, such as an aging parent or raising their children. It also may be to reassess, regroup and recharge for the next chapter of their career.
In some cases, the leader is stepping away following a marathon period whereby they had grown a company for sale, had developed a new product and launched it, or had taken a struggling company and turned it around, and their work was done. These intense periods of immersion can take their toll on leaders who, once they come up for air, realize other aspects of their lives have been withering.
Financially able, they relent to the calling of their personal lives and detach from full-time work. However, after a few years, they often find themselves refreshed, their family or other personal obligations resolved, and their desire for employment resurfacing. Whether it be a financial tug, an emotional pull or an intellectual gap that must be heeded (or more than likely, a combination of the three), the leader makes their way back to the job search door.
The bottom line is, they are now ready to reestablish themselves in a new role. More likely than not, the role in which they reenter the workforce may be below the level they left, as employers presume there is a skills gap. Oftentimes, too, the reentering leader does not wish to take on the same level of responsibility they once had.
Whatever role they seek, however, they offer value to their future employer. This article will explore various areas of contribution a leader returning from sabbatical, will provide to your workplace.
1. They are refreshed. Top leaders, amid the toil of steering the ship, rarely emerge for air, grinding from one role to the next. This can start to become a problem versus an asset. Too much time away from family, traveling for business, or enduring the roiling waters of others’ deadlines, can turn even the most optimistic personalities into resentful leaders. However, after a sabbatical to refill their emotional well, these leaders return to the workforce, eager to sink their teeth into a new challenge.
2. They have a new perspective. Whether it is the trip around the world they took on their sailboat or one-on-one time spent with an aging or ill parent, gaining a new perspective on life can imbue one’s work skills. Through this, they may have honed empathy, elevated cultural insights and/or dived into other areas of personal growth stunted by lack of time and energy prior to their sabbatical. All of these skills and strengths can be invaluable to a culture seeking out a teammate, colleague, manager or mentor to instill similar cultural traits in their enterprise.
3. They are (sometimes) more mellow. In some instances, the sabbatical experience has increased the leader’s capacity and desire for a calmer, less chaotic pace that they may have endured in their prior career. While they may miss making contributions to the corporate world, they don’t miss the level of stress they were under.
As such, they are willing and desirous of a role that taps into their newer calmer, methodical style. In other words, they can leverage their past experience that may have been more amped up with stress and pressure and meld it with their calmer style to come up with a more tenable approach to deadlines. This can, in turn, embolden, empower and reinvent a downtrodden environment.
And, this more-mellow trait can go hand-in-hand with #2, “new perspective,” to more deeply enhance the culture. With culture being such a hot topic in the workforce these days, a double-dose of impact in that area could be a good thing for your company.
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4. They are open to first mate roles versus being the captain of the ship. Because they’ve been-there-done-that, they’ve achieved that leadership pinnacle. They have proven they not only can helm the ship, but that they also can navigate storms well and can make it to the shore, with aplomb.
As such, they may seek out direct-report roles where they can now leverage their vast experience in a supportive vantage point. The company will benefit from the leader’s depth of experience while not having as steep of a salary in which to invest; the returning-to-work leader benefits in that they are not diving back into the deep end of the work pool. They can retain a semblance of work-life balance. It is a win-win.
5. They are mentors and coaches. With their wealth of stored experience and training, these leaders return to the work trenches equipped for more than doing a job. They are filled to the brim with knowledge, skills and abilities, as well as wisdom to be passed along to those employees willing to be mentored and/or coached.
Newly promoted hiring managers may also consider hiring a returning-to-work leader as someone to not only mentor and coach them, but also with whom to share in leadership initiatives, as they both ramp up their roles.
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6. They have learned and want to learn more. They return to work with a new perspective and have learned off-the-work-grid skills and abilities that will transfer meaningfully to a new role. These may include a new language they mastered while traveling abroad, a new artistic talent they picked up that could enhance marketing brainstorming or some other interpersonal or technical skill. They may even have attended school full-time soaking up the latest tech or healthcare (or whatever the industry of expertise) trends, which could bring value to your team.
As well, they have a desire to ramp up their areas of workplace knowledge and skill that may have gotten rusty while away from the day-to-day in a corporate gig. This makes them akin to a new-careerist sponge, eager to soak up the learnings all around them and at-the-ready to deploy value.
Whether you hire them for their soft skills or hard skills, returning to work leaders offer a multiplicity of traits that will add immediate and long-term value to your company. By keeping non-traditional talent on your radar, you can capitalize on these refreshed and ready to hit-the-ground-running future employees. By expanding your company’s opportunity for talent innovation, growth and wisdom, you are better positioned to garner the competitive edge.