Sabbaticals – Escape For New Perspective


SEVERAL PEOPLE in one of my Mastermind Groups talked about the value of taking sabbaticals as a way of renewing energy and gaining perspective. I fully support this as a practice.

When I first joined the military, I and many of my peers scoffed at fully using the 30 days of paid leave we were entitled to every year. Some commanders and senior supervisors viewed it as a sign of weakness if you spent that much time away from work. But as I gained responsibility and earned commands of my own, I also noticed that the most effective leaders actually scheduled “down time” or sabbaticals to give themselves time to decompress, unwind, gain new perspective.

Wing Commander, now retired General James Clapper, my first mentor, regularly took his junior officers to the gym for mandatory attitude adjustment sessions in the squash court. These mini-sabbaticals, in addition to being great team building exercises, gave us a chance to get some one-on-one perspectives from someone who had been around the block a few times. (Full disclosure: I sucked at squash. My sport of choice at the time was racquetball which uses a similar but significantly different racket, ball and rules. I got my head handed to me when we played.) General Joe Ralston actually blocked out a weekly session in the batting cage at the base gym where he worked through problems while smacking baseballs.

As a deputy commander with the Air Force in Alaska, we noticed that the long dark Alaskan winters were hard on our people. In one month in February, there were an unusual number of couples struggling with seemingly minor marital difficulties. Senior supervisors tended to chew up and spit out the young troops for no reason at all. We took three actions: Every day at noon (the only time the sun cleared the horizon during the winter) all personnel not engaged in critical activity were encouraged to go outside for at least 30 minutes and do something not work-related. Second thing: Every third fluorescent light was replaced with a full spectrum “sun” light. Lastly, every one of my direct reports who had more than 30 days of accrued leave was encouraged to take a one-week sabbatical. Morale and productivity improved markedly.

What Are Sabbaticals?

Sabbaticals are planned, strategic job pauses that allow you to travel, do research, volunteer, learn a new skill, or fulfill a lifelong dream. The most meaningful sabbaticals are planned ones – with specific goals and objectives designed to benefit both you and your company. A sabbatical is an opportunity for intentional reflection, professional development, personal growth, transformative insights, and renewed passion.

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Your time away can be paid, unpaid, partially paid or even self-funded. Some programs require an application. Others do not. Your sabbatical length may vary but most are from four to ten weeks. And while many companies allow workers an unrestricted time away – meaning they can do whatever they choose – others have specific requirements and objectives. For example, some sabbatical programs are geared toward community service or innovation research.

Sabbaticals vs. Vacations

Sabbaticals are NOT simply vacations. Whether you decide to travel, take classes, or pursue a new experience, sabbaticals broaden your perspective, helping you make connections and develop fresh ideas that are applicable to your field.


David McNamee, Ph.D.
David McNamee, Ph.D.
David McNamee, Ph.D. is an author, master educator, and leadership expert with documented success in public, private, domestic, and international sectors. David is a Professor of Leadership at the University of Arkansas Grantham, International Faculty at Jesuit Worldwide Learning, and a member of the Board of Directors at the Rotary Fellowship of Leadership Education and Development. With his son, he is co-author of "Servant Leadership Lessons for Middle School" available on Amazon.

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