Leading Through Maternity

In last week’s blog, Guess What? I’m Pregnant, we discussed the benefits a company could experience when their women leaders choose to have babies during their career. This week I wanted us to hear from two businesswomen who have successfully led within an organization while starting a family in the middle of their leadership career.

Meet Maurissa and Cathy, two leaders in the middle who started motherhood around three years ago. Both of these women have had their second baby within the past year, and both are still leading others in a thriving career!

I’ve had the pleasure of leading both Maurissa and Cathy. They are strong producers who were busy leading their departments when they chose to start their family. I’ve asked them to share their tips for preparing, departing, returning, and having the right mindset for maternity leave. The following tips are an accumulation of their valuable feedback.

View your leave as an opportunity for your teammates.

Maternity leave (and its preparation) can be a great time of reflection for you and your team.  You’re about to get WAY out of the way.  Your team has the opportunity to shine. While you’re gone, chances are at least one member of your team will really step up. Chances are this would have happened without your maternity leave but it may have taken longer. The impending delivery date increases the urgency for teammates to take on new responsibilities.

Determine your plans.

It’s likely that you’ll choose to work up until the baby is born.  Before you choose to do otherwise, check with an HR professional on how this might affect your disability claim(s). Consider making a plan that prepares everyone for you to leave as early as 30-34 weeks along just in case… either because the baby arrives early or the doctor decides bed rest is needed.  Beginning at 36 weeks, work as though you’re prepared to stop work at any time.  The closer you get to your due date, you should work on fewer and fewer projects that require multiple days to complete.  This includes not taking paperwork home. Anything taken home isn’t accessible to the team in the event the baby arrives, so either take copies or work with electronic files saved on company servers that are accessible to others on your team.

Create detailed timelines.

Set up timelines in pre-maternity leave. These timelines should include planning out your own production and your teammates’ projects that need your involvement. This insures that everyone accomplishes everything necessary leading to your absence. It also ensures that your teammates can get your input before your limited accessibility. This will enable your team to feel empowered to run on their own while you are gone. As a leader, you’re often sharing your vision on projects. If your teammates have a chance to work out the details before you’re gone, make sure they have your full attention so they feel that the project won’t be at a standstill while you’re unavailable.

Communicate with your leader.

Prepare a weekly timeline to give your leader the opportunity to play in to that plan. Also consider giving your leader a written plan on the projects your department has going on and who is empowered to carry on each in your absence. Due to your leader’s time demands, it might not make sense for all your teammates to report to your leader, so designate one person to be the leader’s go-to person. Then, coach that person on best practices for meeting with your boss.

Be realistic with your expectations.

You can’t keep working.  But you don’t have to go out cold turkey either.  Outline what you currently do. You may need to keep a record of your work on a daily or weekly basis to help summarize the major buckets.  Then decide what you really want, or need, to stay involved with during your leave.  Keep in mind the health of you, your team and your entire organization.  Being unrealistic about your workload will only delay you coming to grips with the sacrifices and new reality of having a baby.

Availability to the team.

As leaders with production and leadership responsibilities, it is difficult to expect to be completely missing in action during leave, so consider the best ways for you and your team to stay in touch. For example, texting can serve as your first line of communication, and then you can follow up with phone calls or email if additional guidance is needed. Consider having at least a few weeks of “quiet,” and then begin taking phone calls and participating in conference calls, as needed. Spot check email to stay in the loop, but don’t feel like you need to get involved in every single decision. The better your pre-maternity plan is, the quieter your leave will be. You prepared your team, now let them be free to perform.

It’s your decision.

If you feel strongly about any of the pertinent issues associated with this transition to mommy hood, don’t let someone else’s experience or advice wrongly sway you away from who you really are.  If you want flexibility upon return, ask for it.  If you don’t want to nurse/pump upon return, don’t.  If you want to go on a date with your husband (and even if you don’t), hire a babysitter.  What’s good for mama really is good for baby, daddy and the office.

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  • Anonymous says:

    This is great advice!!! Thank you Linda for taking the time to write this, it is perfect timing for me:)

  • Rebecca says:

    I think it is so wonderful you are addressing this. When I had my last daughter, I was running two divisions of our company so being totally disconnected for 12 solid weeks was not possible. I worked hand and hand with the executives on a POA before my due date to ensure a transition plan was in place. It resulted in me being able to enjoy those 12 weeks with my newborn and NOT having to worry about what was going on at the office. And who would’ve guessed that was my best year ever for sales performance?!?
    Another great post Linda!