My wife, my COO, and a director: Perspectives on my sabbatical

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Used with permission

Everyone takes the limits of his own vision for the limits of the world.
Arthur Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer was, as far as I can tell from a quick Internet search, a rather dreary philosopher who wrote that emotional, physical, and sexual desires can never be fulfilled, so he was all about negating those desires, which leads to a pretty ascetic lifestyle. I have a more positive view of God’s beautiful work in creating humanity! However, I think he is right that the tendency is to believe that what you think, is in fact, reality. It is only when you put yourself in circumstances where your view of reality can be challenged that you become awake to the greater possibilities that exist in this world. In hindsight, that was what my sabbatical was really all about.

With this post I’ve come to the end of writing about my sabbatical. I am sure from time to time I will refer to something or other from my sabbatical, but this is the last detailed report about it. I have three guest contributors who will each contribute a few thoughts on how my sabbatical touched them: Larry Nelson, the board member who helped me come up with the basic outline of the sabbatical; Heather Card, the COO of CCCC who acted in my stead while I was away; and my wife, who encouraged and supported me in actually doing it. But first, a few final reflections of my own:

  • During the sabbatical I met 66 people in 9 countries, plus all the people at the ICFO meeting in Switzerland.
  • As I review my post, Thoughts as I leave, I realize that none of my concerns materialized. I didn’t get malaria, driving a standard car on the left side of the road was pretty easy (although a bit stressful on the very narrow side streets in the UK), appointments did fill in in South Africa and the United Kingdom, and I never felt my personal safety was in any doubt.
  • I had much that I was already thinking about confirmed by what I observed in other countries, but I also gained some new perspectives on leadership and strategy.
  • I booked most of the appointments by cold-calling (actually cold-emailing) and some by asking Canadian ministries to connect me with their overseas counter-parts. I now have a large number of contacts in other countries and some of them will be very helpful for members of CCCC’s staff.
  • I never suffered jet-lag, never missed a flight or lost any baggage and the only sickness I had was a few days of suffering from the side-effects of Malarone, the anti-malarial drug I took.
  • The trip came in $4,000 under budget. It would have been even more under budget except I discovered that the CCCC’s insurance policy did not cover me for renting cars outside of North America, so that pretty much doubled the cost of the car rentals.
  • Finally, I am well-rested and I’ve had lots of time to reflect on the state of my world. The result is that I am back in the office with fresh vision, a determination to let nothing stop CCCC from achieving its mission, and a focus on moving forward now!

All in all, I’d say the sabbatical was an unmitigated success. But what about the view from others’ perspectives? A sabbatical is not just about the person who goes, it’s also about the people most closely connected with that person. Here’s what some of them have to say about the sabbatical.

Sabbaticals…from the employer’s perspective

Larry Nelson, Board Member, Canadian Council of Christian Charities

Larry’s term on the board ended in September, but he was on the board in 2008 when the board gave me a three month sabbatical to be taken after my 7th year and when it approved my sabbatical plans last summer. He was also the person who asked me the really insightful questions that led me to design the sabbatical that I did. Larry invests his time heavily in developing young leaders (and even the not-so-young like me). I have heard many people sing his praises for helping them grow in their leadership. Larry is a senior associate today with Hutchinson Group, a placement agency specializing in Christian ministries.

There is often a lot of debate at the board table regarding the wisdom and value of sabbaticals for senior staff. Often when you hear someone has gone on sabbatical it is code words for the fact that the individual has burned out and needs time off to recoup. How much better it would  be if boards were proactive and recognized that after a period of years it may be wise to  give their leader time to refresh…not only rest, but revitalize.

Give them time to think about the future of the organization and what it  might be and do that it is not doing now. Provide an opportunity for the leader to regain the excitement they had the first week they arrived on the job.

The CCCC board had the wisdom to recognize the value of a sabbatical for its CEO John Pellowe when it renewed his five year contract and indicated to him that within the early portion of his second term they recommend he take a sabbatical. Now that John has returned from his time away ….the value of this decision is very evident.

What made John’s sabbatical successful? It was carefully planned. John sought out ideas from a variety of individuals as to what might be the best use of his time. Second, he obtained the board’s approval of  his sabbatical objectives and what he hoped to accomplish…including key items the board was looking for…time to rest, reflect and refresh as well as to learn, challenge his thinking, and observe  what is happening in other parts of the world.

Third, John took two weeks at the beginning of his time away to change gears…to prayerfully adjust from the daily responsibilities of the workplace and prepare for his time abroad. Fourth, he did an exceptional job of recording his observations and thoughts as he went along while they were still fresh in his mind. And finally, he took another week at the end of his journey, at a retreat centre, to reflect and document what he learned, his thoughts for the future and ideas and concepts to follow up on.

Do I recommend sabbaticals? Yes, particularly after the leader has been on the job for five or more years. I believe the number one job of any board is to help their chief executive be successful. Great leaders are hard to find and replace…smart boards and senior managers need to find ways to keep their key staff energized, forward thinking and ready and excited to take on new challenges. Employers make a huge statement to their staff when they indicate they are prepared to make a significant investment in their success.

Sabbaticals…from the staff perspective

Heather Card, Chief Operating Officer, Canadian Council of Christian Charities

Heather stepped up as acting-CEO in my absence. My confidence in her leadership was a significant factor in allowing me to actually take a sabbatical without any concerns for the ministry in my absence. Here is what she has to say about how the sabbatical affected her.

The most significant benefit of the sabbatical for me was gaining experience at making the “final” decision. Often as COO the really tough calls are made by the CEO.  I learned to trust my instincts to a greater degree and not doubt the gifts and skills that God has deposited into my life. I feel I have a greater confidence and strength going forward because of this experience.

I really appreciated the network of people that I was able to call on for wise counsel. I’ve always known this was important, but I realized what a tremendous blessing this kind of support is for a leader.

From a development standpoint, this experience amplified my weaknesses too. It has provided me with an opportunity to view some key areas honestly and to decide to do something about them or cover that weakness with the strength of someone else on my team.

Sabbaticals…from the spouse’s perspective

Loron Pellowe, my wife!

Loron and I have been married for almost 30 years and what a wonderful journey we have had together!!! She is used to me travelling 14 to 16 weeks a year, but never all in one big trip. I am eternally grateful for the incredible blessing she has been to me, for her love and support, for enabling me to do what God has called me to do. 1 Corinthians 13 describes the kind of love believers should have, not just for their spouses but for everyone, and Loron’s love is the best example of 1 Corinthians 13 in real life that I have ever experienced.

Ever played games in a group setting? I find it’s usually more comfortable to play as “teams” rather than individually. Even if I couldn’t answer enough questions right to win on my own, as a team we just might and then I get to “win” along with the rest of my team. Several years ago, I began to recognize myself as a “facilitator.” Although I’m willing and indeed, have been on the “front lines” from time to time, in ministry, volunteering, work and at home, my role has most often been to contribute to making it possible for others to do what they need to do. Teamwork is a meaningful term for me and it’s never more important than in a family setting. We root for each other, support each other, applaud each other, and when one of us gets an opportunity to step out on an adventure….we do what it takes to make it work!

Fortunately, we’re quite used to accommodating John’s travel schedule; his sabbatical was just an extended version! We already share household chores as a family, so they were simply shared by fewer people while he was away. But I’ll admit that the prospect of doing the Spring raking and cleanup was weighing on me—that’s one thing that John traditionally does on his own. God saw my predicament and spotlighted a notice in a church bulletin for a youth mission trip fundraiser where you could book a group of youth to do all sorts of Spring cleanup chores! What a deal! In just over an hour, for a donation and a batch of home-baked cookies, the yard was raked, the garden mulched and the yard waste bagged!

What struck me about this trip was that John was away as Winter turned to Spring, for Good Friday, Easter, Mother’s Day, my birthday and his. There are details of daily life here at home that he missed and which no doubt, went unmentioned in spite of Skype, emails and phone calls. On the flipside, though, a highlight for all of us back home was hearing his stories and seeing the amazing photos chronicling his journey, when he returned. We read his blog entries eagerly while he was away, but viewing the photos along with his commentary once he got home really made the world seem so much more accessible and international travel less intimidating–great preparation for our first ever international family trip earlier this month to visit our eldest daughter who lives in Bangkok!

So often, in the months leading up to John’s trip, people would ask almost rhetorically if I was joining him for all or part of it. For a variety of reasons, that just wasn’t going to work. Instead, I determined that this time would be my sabbatical as well! I deliberately incorporated some new spiritual disciplines into my “routines” and invited God to make this a time of growth for me, too...and He did! A sabbatical requires months of preparation for the one making the trip, to firm up the objectives, put contingency plans in place for all the regular work, volunteer and home responsibilities,  and to schedule the itinerary; but a sabbatical is a collaborative effort of the traveller and the ones who stay behind to “hold down the fort.” The significance, outcomes and impact of this adventure don’t belong to John alone, but to all of us who’ve supported, encouraged, facilitated and now watch with anticipation how God will use the sabbatical to accomplish His purposes through CCCC in the days ahead.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.
Ecclesiastes 4:9 NLT

 The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers.
I Corinthians 3:8-9 NLT

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