My newborn has taught me more about business fundamentals in five weeks than I taught myself in seven years as a CEO. My “little boss”, as I call her, has put me through a rigorous bootcamp that has opened my eyes to delegation, prioritization, and self-care skills that can help any business leader. Here are the top three things my daughter Orion has taught me:
1.Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
I live three blocks from a drugstore. Like many moms, I needed a lot of feminine care products while recovering from childbirth. Every day after Orion was born I told myself that I was going to find time to walk down the street to CVS and buy the products I needed. Each day after hours of breastfeeding, rocking a crying baby, and attempting to feed myself in between, I’d realize that I wasn’t going to make it to the store. Finally, after a week of not being able to walk three blocks, I gave up and asked my father-in-law for help. Ten minutes later I had the products I needed. Over the past few weeks I’ve progressively delegated more – asking friends and family for help with everything from dinner to laundry, and outsourced everything else through tools like online groceries.
I’ve always known that delegation is key to successfully running a company. But knowing that delegation is important is very different from being good at it, especially when it comes to the areas of the business that a CEO specializes in. I’ve spent years honing sales and press pitches for my startup Kuli Kuli. Preparing for maternity leave was a true test of my ability to hand off top sales accounts to the sales team and prepare my marketing team for any press engagements that may come up while I’m out. It was a test that I didn’t pass with flying colors. When pressed, Kuli Kuli’s new head of sales and marketing admitted that I hadn’t delegated as cleanly as she’d hoped for. I know that I will return from maternity leave with a new ability to ask for help earlier and fully hand off tasks without micromanagement. Orion has taught me just how important delegation is for excelling at both business and motherhood.
2. Ruthless Prioritization
I love lists. While pregnant, I made a long list of “maternity leave projects” that included grandiose projects such as updating my personal website, finishing a book proposal, and planting a winter garden. The first week Orion was born I made what I thought was a relatively practical seven point list that included what I used to think of as easy tasks such as “water the plants”, “send five thank-you notes”, and “change the sheets.”
Four days later, full of postpartum hormones, I showed my list to my husband, sobbing that I’d never be able to accomplish anything again. To his credit, instead of laughing at the absurdity of making a to-do list days after giving birth, he gently suggested that I set my expectations slightly lower. After all, maternity leave exists because it’s virtually impossible for women to work while recovering from the challenges of childbirth and adjusting to the craziness of 24/7 newborn care. These days my “to-do” list is much shorter, consisting of “nap”, “take a shower”, and “go on a walk.” At the end of my list I write “pick two of three.”
In my life as CEO, I am notorious for making extremely long to-do lists. While this ambition is important, it also means that I often overcommit myself. I’m endlessly curious and optimistic, a combination of characteristics that means I’m often terrible at saying no when presented with new opportunities. Focus is key for a startup CEO as chasing after every opportunity leads to quickly running out of cash.
Orion has taught me a new level of prioritization. I’ve discovered that any activity that isn’t a “must-do” can no longer live on my to-do list. Now, when I hear of a new opportunity, no matter how small the time commitment, I will rigorously evaluate it. If it’s not a “hell yes” opportunity, it’s now a “hell no.”
3. Self Care is Self Preservation
I run a company in the wellness industry, and have always thought of myself as being quite good at self-care. In my pre-COVID, pre-pregnancy world, I biked to work everyday, ran around the lake near our office, and spent ten minutes meditating before starting work. I prioritized sleep, sleeping eight hours even during my most stressful weeks. All of that went out the window when Orion arrived. Instead of spending my mornings exercising, I was sleep-deprived and struggling to find time even to brush my teeth.
When the Amazon packages started to pile up on our front door because we hadn’t left the house, my mother-in-law took pity on us and encouraged my husband and I to go on a walk while she watched Orion. Simply being outside and moving my body felt amazing. A weight lifted off me. I realized that I wasn’t being the positive, happy mom that I wanted to be. Now we walk everyday, and have found that it calms all of us, even our screaming baby.
Founder/CEO burnout is a hot topic in the startup world. When your startup inevitably faces challenges, it’s so easy to try to solve those challenges by working all the time, losing sleep and stopping exercise. This puts you in a mental space where you’re least prepared to solve challenges. Orion taught me that no matter how busy I feel, I need to take care of myself so that I can take care of anything the world throws at me, be it a newborn blowout or an HR debacle.
Pregnant women are all too often seen as liabilities – employees or CEOs who will take lots of time away from work and will come back less effective. I firmly believe that this belief should be flipped on its head. My maternity leave has been more effective than any business leadership training I’ve attended at teaching me how to effectively delegate, prioritize and keep myself in a positive mental state. I hope that someday employers will actively seek out pregnant women to hire, knowing that they’ll be all the more effective for their “little boss” training.