As mamas, we all manage our households, to be sure. But what about those of us who are managers at work, too? Here’s a question I recently received from a new mama who will soon be returning to work after maternity leave, about how to step back in upon her return.
I also often get the question of how to be a good manager (in general) as a working mama, so I’ll address both issues here.
Question from New Mamas:
Do you have any tips for managers of teams who are returning from maternity leave? I manage a large team, and, rather than hire a temporary replacement for me during my leave, my direct reports all simply reported to my own boss. While some of them were overwhelmed during my time away, I think many of these direct reports were energized by more exposure to the “big boss” and to having more authority and autonomy.
As I return to my supervisory capacity, I have two main concerns: (1) a worry that my direct reports will be demoralized by losing some of the greater visibility and leadership enjoyed while I was out, and how I can work through that in a positive way to keep them energized; and (2) how I can take advantage of the projects they took over leadership of in my absence and continue to delegate some of those responsibilities to them, so I can enjoy a more manageable workload and get home earlier to my new little one.
Mindful Return Secrets:
First, to the new working mamas heading back from maternity leave: You are already showing yourself as a thoughtful, mindful manager, by being aware of and articulating these dynamics. If you haven’t yet taken the pulse of your direct reports upon your return, be sure to sit down with each of them and do so!
With respect to those relationships your direct reports have grown with your boss, I would acknowledge them, take the time to express your delight – both to your direct reports and your boss – that these relationships have been able to develop, and continue to encourage them to thrive. It helps YOU do your job better when your team is stronger, is being mentored by great leaders, and feels more connected to and vested in the organization.
In the Mindful Return course, we spend a whole lesson talking about the importance of growing your team through delegation, and how allowing direct reports to keep some of the projects they “inherited” while you were out can free you up for more strategic thinking work, growing your own leadership muscles. Good for you for thinking about this. Take the time to have a 1:1 conversation with each direct report, to define the contours of your relationship going forward, and negotiate what makes sense for each individual to “keep” now that you are back.
Finally, an awesome Mindful Return alum, Stephanie Weeks, wrote this brilliant piece, Returning to Work after Maternity Leave a Better Manager, specifically on this subject. Her advice to jump into culture, listen carefully and act quickly, and relate better with your new mamas skills, is spot on.
Second, to ALL working mama managers:
The skills you gain through motherhood can certainly serve you well in managing others, no? From delegation’s becoming a life-or-death requirement…to a laser-focus on priorities…to learning to handle the unexpected…to developing STRONG patience muscles, you have skills that are so incredibly helpful in the management space.
Consider bringing your whole self to work, as it helps normalize work-family integration in your office. If you are going to be offline for several hours each evening, communicate that to your direct reports; if you intend to work a split-shift and send e-mails at crazy hours, communicate whether it’s your expectation that your direct report respond immediately (or consider holding your e-mail responses until the next morning). As in most things in life, communication is key.
Also, though Stephanie’s post is aimed at brand new working mamas, her advice is applicable all around. My favorite of her tips? To use the compassion and broader perspective on the world that motherhood brings, to be able to relate on a deeper level to your direct reports. Everyone has families. Everyone has stresses and deals with the unexpected in life. The world can use all the compassion and understanding it can get, and a mama manager is in a wonderful position to use her leadership for good.
For more help heading back to work after maternity leave, join the next session of the Mindful Return course.