MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Business Owner Takes A Break From His Own Business

If you are an entrepreneur, you know the weight of owning your own business. The daily pressure of securing new business, resolving customer fires, managing stretched staff, and stretching cash can overwhelm days, weeks, months, and even years. Worst of all, the daily stresses take over, and it’s very easy to spend all of your time in your business instead of running your business. Being in the trenches makes it difficult to dream about ways you can grow.


But what if you could step away for enough time to reset? What if you had the freedom of an empty calendar for days at a time? What could you accomplish if you had the opportunity to take a breath and recharge?


That’s what Matt McKelvey wanted to find out – no, needed to find out– so he purposely took a leave of absence in November and December of last year from his financial services company, The McKelvey Group. And from what he says now, it was the best thing he could have done. This Launch Workplaces member came back refreshed and recharged with a new outlook on his business.

According to Fast Company magazine, sabbaticals are a rare perk in corporate America. Only 23% of all U.S. companies and 17% of small-to-midsized businesses offer them. Sabbaticals are not just good for those who take them; they are good for the business because of what happens in their wake. Shaking things up encourages new ways of working and new ways of solving old problems to flourish and grow.


Matt McKelvey is well known for his expertise in working with companies looking to build their corporate infrastructure to enable accelerated growth in both the federal and commercial marketplaces. With a staff of 24 and dozens of active clients, every day for Matt is meetings, spreadsheets, phone calls, and deliverables. But during his break, his days were his. He completed long-neglected personal projects which were always in the back of his mind, spent more time with his family, dusted off books he hadn’t read in years, saw a lot of live music, and took several short trips to sightsee/hike/visit friends. These activities let him relax so he could think creatively and openly about his business.


This is what he says he gained from experience: “I was always trying to find the time to look at the big picture, the longer horizon. Instead, I was stuck in the details. My sabbatical gave me the opportunity to reset my perspective. Before I left, I knew that I wasn’t fulfilling my role as the leader of the organization. But my most unexpected realization was that by being involved in the minutia of my business, I was actually holding my team back. They would WAIT for me. But while I was gone, the team got everything done. They landed new clients, successfully executed on existing accounts, mentored each other, and moved the business forward. They didn’t have to wait for me. I had been in the classic entrepreneur’s trap – I wanted my team to take work off my plate. But it wasn’t until my sabbatical that I let them do that.”


Sabbaticals and extended vacation time are not just good for the business owner to rest and recharge — they benefit the organization by stress-testing the organization and providing interim roles to allow aspiring employees to take on more leadership, according to an article in Harvard Business Review. This was the experience at The McKelvey Group, as junior staff members were able to demonstrate their expertise and shine. Admittedly, it was a challenge for his management team to pick up the slack during his absence. Everyone had to step up, take risks, and be willing to stretch their comfort zones. But the satisfaction of succeeding in his absence inspired new confidence throughout the team and created a shift in culture that is expected to take the company to the next stage of its growth.


Since being back, Matt has already seen the benefits in his business from his time off. Team members are working out issues together instead of defaulting to Matt’s involvement. Clients don’t immediately escalate issues to Matt; they are working with the same people who solved their problems over the two months Matt was away. Employee satisfaction is up. And most importantly, Matt now has the time to focus on growing his business instead of just working in his business.


One of the first policies implemented after Matt returned was a new benefit for the team. The McKelvey Group now has a new sabbatical policy available to everyone in the company. And the first employee has just taken advantage of it. The whole team is looking forward to his return – refreshed and ready to go!


Think you couldn’t afford to step away from your business? The real question is, can you afford not to?