October 25, 2012
What You Can Learn From Marissa Mayer’s Maternity Leave

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer gave birth to a baby boy on September 30. Her first full day back at the office, she announced on Twitter, was October 15. That’s a short time as maternity leaves go, though longer than some CEOs who are afraid to take a break.

But she made it work, diving back in with the announcement of a big hire (new COO Henrique de Castro), and delivering happy news a week later that earnings beat expectations. You too can hand off the day-to-day controls of your operation for a few days or weeks without everything falling apart. Indeed, a wise leader figures out how to do just that because life happens. You want to be sure your business can run without you right there. Here’s how.

1. Make your leave plans public. When taking the Yahoo! job, Mayer announced that she’d take about two weeks off, with some work at home. While plans can change — if you need additional treatment during a medical leave, for instance — letting your employees and board know roughly what to expect increases the chances that all goes as expected.

2. Get over micromanagement. Micromanagement is bad management. If your team can’t operate without you approving every detail, you need a different team. Mayer has made headlines several times in the last few months for bringing in Silicon Valley luminaries she can trust, like new CFO Ken Goldman. She knows they can run things well if she’s there or not.

3. Put virtual work systems in place. A medical absence isn’t the only reason someone might not be able to attend an important meeting in person. You could get stranded in a far away airport due to weather, a volcano (as happened in Iceland in 2011) or a host of other reasons. Build a culture where people can dial or Skype in to meetings, or use fancier teleconferencing software, and make sure your technology enables sharing documents wherever your team members may be. While this is second nature for tech companies such as Yahoo!, more traditional companies often lack this culture to their detriment.

4. Don’t keep secrets. Some people think they gain power by being the only people to know important information. This only works if you’re actually immortal. If you’ve been courting a new client, and that client wants to start a project while you’re recuperating from surgery, things will soon get frustrating for everybody. Always loop in deputies so anyone your company works with has multiple points of contact.

5. Show it’s OK to have a life. Yes, running a business means working hard, but if you model that you’re not so superhuman that you never need a day off, you’ll inspire loyalty from your team. And a more loyal team means you’ll have an easier time taking days off in the future — whether that’s for having babies, or not.

Laura Vanderkam
Laura Vanderkam is the author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2012) and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She writes the 168 Hours blog for CBS MoneyWatch, is a member of USA Today's Board of Contributors, and speaks frequently about time management and leadership topics. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children.

Other Articles by Laura Vanderkam:

How To Give Regular Feedback And Still Get Work Done

Why And How Managers Should Help Workers Set Boundaries

Work-Life Balance Is Dead—Why That Might Be A Good Thing

It’s Time To Stop Asking CEOs How They 'Balance'

How To Figure Out Your Optimal Workload

7 Common Mistakes New Managers Make

The Right Way To Use Company Perks

How To Figure Out Your Most Productive Time Of Day

Why You Should Rethink That Morning Meeting

5 Ways To Keep Your Best Employees From Quitting