How maternity leave made me a better leader

Final 12 months, following the start of my first child, I went on maternity leave: for 18 weeks, I absolutely disconnected from my job because the CEO of Entrance, the corporate I cofounded 7 years prior. Startup knowledge says that one of the best ways to succeed at your job is to make your self out of date. Supposedly, in a high-growth setting, there’s all the time extra to do than you’ll be able to deal with, so by making your self out of date, you’re releasing your self as much as broaden your scope. That is smart on paper, however as CEO I can’t precisely tackle a larger position, so I’ve needed to take that saying a little extra figuratively. That modified once I went on maternity leave: lastly, I might take a look at whether or not, over time, I had completed a good job making myself out of date. Right now, the corporate, my crew, and I are in a good spot. Considering again, I’m satisfied that occurring maternity leave allowed me to get there quicker. Right here’s why.

Occurring maternity leave won’t sound like a controversial resolution. In any case, you’ll be able to’t sit in a board assembly and ship a child on the identical time, so that you would possibly as effectively give precedence to the one you’ll be able to’t postpone. And who doesn’t wish to meet the newest addition to their household? Nonetheless, for a lot of formidable professionals, the frequent understanding of what it means to go on “parental leave” is to maintain the official period to a minimal, keep updated on the newest company occasions when you’re out, and nonetheless make your self accessible throughout the leave lest vital selections are made with out your enter.

I wished to do the precise reverse: disconnect for 18 weeks, the utmost period afforded at full-pay to workers of Entrance in California. The plain purpose was that I used to be pregnant and looking out ahead to spending time with my daughter, however on high of that, I felt compelled to steer by instance. I needed to take the complete period of the leave and stay offline the entire time, in order that different mother and father working beneath me wouldn’t really feel the unstated stress of getting to chop their leaves quick, for concern of not conforming to the usual set by the CEO. The pandemic had been notably exhausting for fogeys, with one in three mothers contemplating leaving the workforce or taking a much less demanding job, so I discovered it additional vital to attempt to reverse this pattern.


It was nonetheless a exhausting resolution to make. I had labored at Entrance with nearly no interruption for 7 years, and had by no means felt like I might take a lengthy break—say, greater than 2 weeks—with out repercussions to the enterprise, so the thought of absolutely disconnecting for greater than 4 months was scary. My govt crew was incomplete, and I feared that this hole would decelerate our working cadence. I had simply employed a CRO, and knew that thorough onboarding was essential to make them profitable on the job. Usually talking, as CEO, the buck stops with me. I questioned: once I’m gone, who will make the exhausting selections that may fall beneath my duty?

The being pregnant plan

Fortuitously, being pregnant hormones are highly effective tranquilizers, so I nonetheless went for it. I made a cautious plan for what ought to occur whereas I used to be out:

  • a resolution delegation chart with an proprietor for each subject I might consider, from who would run all-hands conferences to who would log out on new hires.
  • an escalation framework, with a checklist of emergencies that have been price texting me about.
  • and an agenda for my return, so that folks knew what I wished to have a look at once I’d be again.

Then I had my child, principally on day 1 of my scheduled leave, and I didn’t hear concerning the firm as soon as for the subsequent 18 weeks. It was an extremely particular time, and I’m so grateful I took it. 

Nonetheless in enterprise!

After I got here again, to my amazement, we have been nonetheless in enterprise! In reality, I had by no means anticipated the corporate to be struggling, however I used to be certain I’d have to instantly return to 70-hour workweeks, put out a lot of fires, and deal with festering points. As a substitute, I discovered that we have been thriving. In my absence, the corporate had reworked and grown.

Partly because of the resolution delegation I outlined earlier than my leave, and partly because of the vacuum I left, everybody discovered themselves with a stronger sense of possession over their very own work. The escalation framework gave folks a sense of safety: if issues actually went south, I’d be again (actually, nothing was escalated to me). And since 18 weeks is a very long time, folks have been pressured to make calls themselves as an alternative of suspending till my return. Thus occurred what occurs when gifted individuals are supplied with loads of autonomy and sufficient room for error: total, they did nice work.

Groups have been pressured to collaborate, particularly throughout the govt crew. Satirically, that was precisely what I had been attempting to realize for a whereas, however might by no means pull it off with out occurring leave: I all the time ended up being the go-between, the arbiter of conflicts between completely different components of the corporate. With me gone, there was no hope that I’d take one aspect over the opposite. I couldn’t save them the ache of deciding on the very best path for the enterprise: for weeks, they have been pressured to determine it out with out me. Now, they wouldn’t need it another method!

Not all the pieces went above expectations. This was nearly reassuring: I used to be nonetheless wanted at Entrance in any case! My absence outlined the roles I had that couldn’t be crammed by anybody else, like frequently addressing the entire firm to unite and encourage them. Earlier than occurring leave, I’d speak many occasions per 30 days at our All Arms displays, attended by everybody. Throughout my leave, nevertheless, folks didn’t hear from me as soon as. Dozens of recent workers joined Entrance and didn’t get to see their CEO for a lot of weeks, which solely aggravated the isolating impact of the pandemic. Now that I’m again, I’m extra deliberate in my communication to the corporate.


Lastly, I used to be personally ready to make use of that point in a productive method for the enterprise. It gave me unprecedented step-back time. For the primary time within the historical past of the corporate, I had the power to have a look at our enterprise from a indifferent perspective, sheltered from the buzzing noise of the each day ups and downs. It actually pushed my inventive pondering and allowed me to provide you with some loopy concepts that we’ve been experimenting with for a number of months as a firm.

Mathilde Collin is CEO and cofounder of Front, a buyer communication platform.