Like many entrepreneurs, my business was born out of a passion; thus, I have always treated my business much like a parent treats a child. I have sleepless nights worrying about it's well-being, I miss meals in an effort to make sure it stays well-nourished, I research the best partnerships and projects to ensure it has a bright future. And while the building of a brand has always kept me busy, it has also always kept me incredibly fulfilled -- just like parenting.
So what happens when the parent of a company becomes a real life parent? That was the question I asked myself as I happily anticipated the birth of my first child. As a seasoned CEO, I treated the impending birth much like the launch of a new program or service. I researched the situation, created timetables and task lists, I even briefed my family members on the progress just to keep us all on the same page. Even with all the planning and care, I was still concerned that taking maternity leave would hurt my company--and not taking my leave would hurt my family.
"The biggest difference between being a pregnant CEO and a pregnant employee is that you don't really get leave as the CEO," wrote Rhea Drysdale in a recent article for Medium. While it's true you can't "leave as the CEO", I did find some ways to take the time off that I needed while making sure my company continued to function and grow. Here are my 4 tips for female CEO's preparing for maternity leave:
While you may feel pressured to rush things along, resist the urge to move too quickly. "I'm a big believer in 'hire slow, fire fast' so I took about 4 months interviewing, testing out, hiring and training the contractors who were taking over for me during my leave," says CEO Val Geisler. The idea is to create the best team possible while you are still in the office so they can take over the day-to-day operations when you are gone. Once you have a solid team in place, set up a weekly meeting with them to be briefed on progress--do this BEFORE you leave. This will get you--and them--more comfortable with the new roles of responsibility. And speaking of slow...do not be in a rush to generate lots of revenue before you leave in order to make up for the anticipated down months while you're gone--this will just add to your pre-baby stress. "I planned the revenue for the rest of the year to help balance out those lower months," adds Geisler.
Plan for the Details
When you are planning for a baby you tend to overthink everything--this is a good thing when it comes to getting your company ready for your leave. Make a list of everything that needs to be done on a daily, weekly and monthly basis--ask your department heads to contribute items so you have an exhaustive list of everything that happens within your company on a regular basis (this is actually good to do even if you're not going on maternity leave). Once you have the exhaustive list, you need to delegate who is doing which job now and who will be responsible for it while you are gone. For example, who will sign-off on payroll? Who will send out client invoices? Who is responsible should the website go down? There is no task too small or too big to be put on this list. With delegation assigned, meet with key people to discuss their new tasks--making sure they have what they need to get the job done such as usernames and passwords.
Create a Communication Plan
In the beginning, I thought I would continue to be as accessible to others as I had always been while in the office. After all, as a CEO I traveled and had gotten used to coordinating things via laptops and smartphones. However, it's hard to use a laptop while breastfeeding and when a phone vibrates on the table next to my finally sleeping child, it can really send a tired mother over the edge. Create a communication plan that let's your team know when and how to get in touch with you. I suggest appointing 1 or 2 people as your communication point person(s), having everyone else go through them should they need to reach you. Establishing limits to your communication will also relieve stress at home and at the office. Perhaps communicate through email only (urgent messages can be sent via text) with phone calls taken during a specific time of day when you have others on hand to help with the baby. Also, make sure you are getting communication about the good--and not just the bad and the ugly. "If you have a system in place to receive positive news about your team and the work, you will feel much calmer and happy," writes Drysdale. "So will others."
Embrace the Distance
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder and this is true for those weeks when you are on leave. As Drysdale suggests, in your absence, the culture of your company and the connectivity of your team will really come into focus, allowing you to see the beauty and the beast of the brand you have built and giving you a clear vision of what works and what may need to be tweaked. Use this as a time of reflection on the overall mission and vision of your company. Not being involved in the day-to-day operations gives you the opportunity to "pay attention to the path, not just the end result", perhaps discovering more productive, more cost-effective or even more inspiring ways to achieve your goals.
As CEOs, we are innately big planners, but as you head out the door for maternity leave, know that even the best-laid plans will have some unexpected moments. My advice is to prepare for only half of what you have planned working as intended. Get comfortable with that reality and figure out the bare minimum of what you actually need to do so you can focus on the new baby in your life--knowing that your brand baby is in good hands.