I have recently returned to work after the birth of my first child. As a business owner, I was not totally sure how my maternity leave would happen. I told myself that I would not try to over extend myself so if I needed the time off, I would take it. But I also love to work and knew my company needed me so I assumed I would want to get back to work as soon as possible. I ended up taking a full 3 months off. And while I thought there was no way the company could afford such a luxury, the value of what I gained by being absent from my company is worth so much more than I could have ever imagined.
I am a very detailed person who likes to plan and execute. I intended, of course, for my birth process to fall into that pattern. My son decided to call the shots though, and came 7 days early. I had had some early discussions with my team about how my leave would be handled but the main meeting to discuss my leave was scheduled for 2 days after the baby actually arrived. At 8pm the night before I gave birth, I was out sales pitching a client. I went into labor at 3am the next morning...
The next few days were very hazy but in way too short a time later I was back home with a new baby. I remember thinking that I didn't have the brain capacity at that moment to do much of anything. I saw emails coming into my inbox but couldn't really answer them in the delirious state that I was in. And at that moment something strange happened. People just did what my out on maternity leave reply instructed and contacted the office. And the office took care of things. Nobody really called me or asked for direction, my team just worked together and executed what the business needed. When something came up that might have normally required my input, they just talked it out as a group and tried to decide, "what Kristina would do." And the business kept going. It moved forward without me. One day, over 2 months later, I woke up to realize I was no longer necessary. My team didn't need me listening in on their sales pitches and correcting word choices. They didn't need me reminding them today was the day we process invoices. They didn't need me to, dare I say, micro-manage anything.
At first when I realized what was happening I was shocked and confused. It was so clear to me in the past that while my team members were truly great, I was the glue that held them together. I always worked a 40 plus hour work week and I was always busy... so I must have been important. My first day back I sat alone in my office and waited for people to knock on my door with questions, concerns, directions, but no one came. On the second day I got the message and decided that I should start figuring out what I now did at my company. I cleaned my desk, I organized some files, and when I came to the end of all of the mundane excuses..er, tasks, I decided to looked into my "ideas we don't have time for" folder. With the excitement and trepidation of a child on the first day of grade school, I started the first task of my "new job": growing my business. I created a growth plan, then I made a calendar of goals, then I met with team members and figured out where pain points were and I started to address them. Since I've been back, I have spent day after day working on my business while my team runs the business.
I don't know exactly how much it costs to have consultants or specialists come in and help solve "efficiency issues" or "employee problems" or whatever else may be the hypothetical thing that is holding a company back. What I do know is that my maternity leave was a glaring confirmation that I was creating redundancies. And certainly no expert can teach you how to just let go. So if you want a sure-fire way to see if your company is working well, go ahead and take your maternity leave...you can't afford not to. If you are not pregnant or don't plan to be, just take a long vacation. Give yourself a full month off and see what happens, I am sure you deserve it. You will learn all sorts of things you never thought possible. Your employees and your company will thank you for it.
*Note: I do believe this principle can be applied to more than just the owner of a company. How well a team performs whenever any team member is gone for a significant amount of time is the true test of the system.
This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.