Maximizing your return from leave

How my maternity leaves made me a better manager and leader

A relatable question came in via

“I am a first-time mom and am about to return to a high-pressured job. Any blog on making this transition — about managing expectations from people at work and yourself as I’m poor at maintaining balance — would be appreciated.”

Earlier this year, I came back from a 3-month leave too. I returned to my job as a Senior Director overseeing a few managers and ~15 people across two research teams.

It was my 4th time returning from leave. Here’s what I’ve learned:

It will be rough at first, but it does get better. Going back after my first kid was the hardest because I saw no end to my exhaustion in sight. All babies are different; mine each took until they were 8–10 months old to sleep all night consistently.

Passing this milestone is pivotal.

Many co-workers won’t realize what you’re managing. If your experience is like mine, most colleagues will want things to be like before. Some co-workers over the years called my leave a ‘vacation,’ expecting I’d somehow be recharged. Others would fill my calendar with hours of back-to-back meetings, not realizing that wrecks your pumping schedule.

I learned to stay calm and be positive in these situations. It’s not intentional. This also taught me a new level of grit and patience. Some valuable skills to practice, as these characteristics are valuable for leaders.

Set expectations and hold them. After my second, I started setting clear parameters about when I couldn’t be interrupted. And I stuck with it to avoid an avalanche. Family time was 5.30–7.30 pm, so I’d go offline.

Realize that the habits you create right after returning from leave can stick for years. I didn’t want days to pass without focused time for the kids.

Ruthless prioritization is essential. Having kids made me a better manager and have a more substantial executive presence.

Here’s why:

Sticking to shorter hours required me to distinguish between what was ‘important’ and just ‘urgent.’

This is roughly how I prioritized my work earlier this year:

Source: My application of Eisenhower’s prioritization matrix

Anything lower left-hand side was cut.

Anything urgent but not highly important, I delegated out or declined it.

This focused my limited energy on delivering mission-critical things. It also freed up time for the non-urgent but highly important stuff.

This matters because it gave me time to think strategically, develop recommendations leadership, and support the team’s growth through specific feedback and career planning.

In other words, this framework helped me work less and have more impact.

What would this look like for your job?

(This is an excerpt from the newsletter. If you’d like to submit a question — ask here. Or, if you’d like more, sign up for the bi-weekly newsletter here).

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