Being a career mom is a curious balancing act and one that takes a little bit of time to achieve. On one side I feel guilty as I drop my child off at daycare every day. She’s so young and small, and my heart aches to hug her close all day every day. On the other side, I’m sitting home after work, and something is gnawing at me because I haven’t checked my email in a few hours. What if something needs my immediate attention? But eventually, you start to find a sweet spot. You make the most of the time you have in both of your worlds.
Recently a client called for our regular catch-up conversation and inquired as to how my perspective has shifted since becoming a mom. He talked about the significant changes for him after his son was born. And he wasn’t the first to bring up this topic. Of all of the wonders I’ve experienced in being a new mom, and trust me, there have been MANY; the biggest is that it has made me a better leader. It’s made me better at my job! This caught me completely by surprise. I don’t often pull from my personal life for these articles, but today’s lesson comes to you from the nursery instead of the boardroom.
Let’s start with the obvious; spending time with an infant will instill in you a level of patience unparalleled in any work environment. A baby has no regard for your plans or timetable. You want to enjoy a hot dinner? Too bad, that’s when she’ll demand to be held. You want to grab a quick 30 minutes on the treadmill? Better do it at 5:30 AM. Cute outfit? Blowout.
So yeah, babies are somewhat unpredictable. But guess what? Business can be too. And learning to pivot constantly and deal with the ups and downs is Leadership 101. I find myself accepting these change of plans moments in the office with the same coolness I used only to possess when things were going perfectly. There is rarely a reason to panic; we’ll find a way through.
Acceptance that sometimes I can’t fix it.
A baby cries, and you try all your tricks to fix it. Diaper? Nope. Bottle? Nope. Sleep? Nope. Sometimes you just are left Googling and then pacing the hallways until whatever it is passes. Being a parent doesn’t make you magical, and it doesn’t give you all of the answers. Sometimes it’s okay that I can’t immediately make the situation all better.
Clients are finicky, some more than others. Even after almost two decades in this industry, I don’t always have the answer or the particular combination to make them happy. Sometimes what they’re asking I can’t give. And other times, they’re not even making reasonable requests. Occasionally it’s perfectly fine not to be able to provide them with what they want or think they need. Business will march on, and tomorrow’s a new day to get it right.
Prioritization and time management.
Almost any book on management and leadership will tell you that you are far more productive if you limit yourself to a typical workday. Our work tends to expand into whatever time span we give it. So if you have four hours to complete a project, you’ll get it done in four hours. Limit yourself to two, and somehow you still get it done. Clearly, this application has its limits, but there’s definitely some validity to it. My days have a hard stop now, and it’s made me far more efficient in how I map out my day. Meetings are more focused. Processes are analyzed continuously for efficacy. If I’m going to work 8-10 hours, I’m maximizing every second. Because when I get home, I need to feel confident that everything is in a good place…so I can leave that pesky inbox alone till morning.
Speaking of email, did you know that if there is a fire people will find a way to reach you? There is very rarely anything happening after leaving the office that can’t wait till morning. Not every request constitutes an emergency. I make sure my team keeps an eye on their company messenger and text messages, but I don’t expect them to check emails during off hours. If someone needs something quickly, they’ll reach them some other way. We have also improved our communication of hard deadlines with clients. Not only is this making us more efficient and able to provide better service, but it also allows my team to truly be off work, which makes them more effective when they’re here.
Prepare, and then prepare some more.
You don’t dare leave the house with a baby without running through a litany of checklists. You should see how I packed for our Thanksgiving trip! And you only have to leave the house once without a bottle (thinking you’ll be back before feeding time) to realize that you never leave the house without a bottle.
Operations, procedures, and processes have always been my thing. But when I returned from maternity leave, I found myself ripping apart every single SOP and help guide. Was our training manual indeed guiding our team members in the right direction? Were they prepared for every challenge or situation they may face? What gaps didn’t I fill before I left? I don’t ever want a team member to be left feeling like a father forced to MacGyver a diaper and wipes in a mall bathroom. Yes, that happened. It’s okay to improvise, but when left with a choice, I’d rather be better prepared.
My husband is a rock star, no exaggeration. He’s a diaper changing, late-night feeding, school bag prepping, grocery getting dynamo. It’s not lost on me that he’s made this experience what it’s been. He’s allowed this career-baby-balance thing not only work but seriously click. I love and appreciate him for it, and I remind myself to tell him that regularly. I can’t do everything on my own.
I’ve always appreciated my team here, but my new normal has shined a light on where I need to delegate (and where I shouldn’t). And it has continuously prompted me to let those who support me, who support our clients, know just how much they’re needed and valued.
Everyone says that you never know true love till you’ve held your child for the first time. They’re pretty dead on. It’s a different kind of love that shakes you to your core and rearranges your wiring. Probably the biggest surprise in all of this is that finding my passion for being a mom has uncovered a more profound desire and passion as a leader. It threw gasoline on my hunger to strive for my team, our clients, GYM HQ, ClubReady and the entire fitness industry. It’s made me want more and desire to make everything I touch noteworthy. It’s nudged me to challenge myself. It’s made me love what I do and the small business owners we help all the more.
All in all, any fears I may have held deep in the recesses of my mind that being a mom would diminish my capacity to be a leader were unnecessary and unfounded. Our hearts, minds, and abilities are so much more elastic than we can understand. We shouldn’t be afraid to push for everything we want in our lives. Our growth knows no bounds, and growth in one area tends to impact every other area positively.