An enforced break from your team is a chance for staff to grow

Maternity leave offers your team a chance to prove themselves while you prepare for your next role.

Nicola Green: "I will be back in the summer. Who knows how our business will have changed by then."
Nicola Green: "I will be back in the summer. Who knows how our business will have changed by then."

"Management," asserts Harvard professor John Kotter, "is about coping with complexity. Leadership, by contrast, is about coping with change... Major changes are more and more necessary to survive and compete effectively. More change always demands more leadership."*

Kotter goes on to cite some examples of what those changes might be: "Faster technological change, greater international competition, the deregulation of markets and the changing demographics of the workforce."

To this list I would add another more personal one: maternity leave, which brings with it immovable deadlines and non-negotiable terms.

This is particularly relevant if – like me – you are so involved in your job that you often feel it defines you, and therefore an enforced six months off is a daunting prospect. Fear of missing out even has its own hashtag: #FOMO.

From a personal perspective, the benefits are obvious and very tangible. From a professional point of view, the challenge is to look at how I can take this change and use it to do my job better and to allow those who directly report to me to do their jobs better too.

As is often the case, the answer arrived during a conversation. A senior board member at O2 pointed out to me that my impending maternity leave is not so much an absence, more an opportunity for everyone on my team to step into bigger roles for a while. It is their opportunity to practise, if you will, for their next roles which in turn will free me to step up to my next role in due course.

Therefore, I will be obliged to allow my team to get on with things without me. They will have the space to grow, make their own decisions, possibly learn from their mistakes, work with each other and understand more about our business. If they look good, I look good.

In 2010, Sheryl Sandberg created quite a stir with her TED Talk and subsequent book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. She suggested that women faltered in their careers because they "took their foot off the gas".

While I do not agree with everything she says, I do think she has a point that it is up to the individual to proactively manage their professional life.

In practical terms, I will be keeping in touch with my team through monthly updates and providing guidance if asked.

But I shall try to resist the temptation to interfere and instead use any spare time (yes, I am an optimist) constructively by getting involved in mentoring and learning, taking up speaking invitations, and thinking about the strategy and ideas that the daily hurly-burly prevents.

I will be back in the summer. Who knows how our business will have changed by then. But I shall embrace it.

*Harvard Business Review,

Nicola Green is director of comms and reputation at Telefónica UK


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