Today was my last day of work before going on leave to become a mama!
It’s been a whirlwind of emotions preparing to welcome our little bundle of joy all while preparing to take by far the longest pause from work of my career (following a 10-day trip to Italy in 2014). Thankfully my coworkers have been beyond supportive in so many ways — from offering help and providing coverage, to sharing parenting advice and showering me with gifts. I’m grateful for them. And I’m grateful for the unexpected lessons I’ve learned while trying to wrap up my work for them, too.
I learned to focus on the set-up over the wrap-up.
For a while, I was fixated on finishing. I didn’t want to leave a problem unsolved, a task incomplete, a conversation left open, or a question unanswered.
Eventually I accepted that this wasn’t realistic. Moreover, I recognized that all these responsibilities I cared about would be handled much better by empowered teammates than myself. My goal shifted from completing project work to, instead, setting up others to feel good about carrying it forward. I wanted them to feel informed with the context, equipped with the tools, and — most of all — confident in moving it forward in their own ways.
My goal shifted from completing project work to, instead, setting up others to feel good about carrying it forward.
Instead of preciously preserving heads-down time on my calendar, I prioritized giving as much time as I could to help knowledge transfer with others. And the emphasis of those conversations evolved from explaining information to, instead, sparking drive and inspiration. It was about getting others to care about the same problems and opportunities I was working on so the momentum could keep going (and with some fresh perspectives and approaches).
I learned to delegate in ways that matter.
Along the same lines, I finally embraced the art of delegation in a much more powerful way. (Or at least I tried). Delegation is a skill I’ve always struggled with and know I need to keep working on. The impending long leave forced me to approach it differently this time. Instead of just delegating tasks to be done, I needed to delegate problems to define and solve, and decisions to be made. I had read about the basis of this framing from Dave Bailey, but never effectively put it into practice until now.
Instead of just delegating tasks to be done, I needed to delegate problems to define and solve, and decisions to be made.
In these last couple weeks, I found myself taking on more of the straight-forward tasks to knock out, which normally seem like good delegation candidates since they require less direction — things like UX copywriting, an audit, a quick usability test, specifying accessibility annotations, etc. When it came to tasks, I tried to only ask for others’ time on things that would benefit them to do directly. Overall, I tried making room for them to take the more meaty, ambiguous, and ongoing things off my plate instead of the simpler tasks. And I aimed to instill confidence in their own ways of approaching it.
I learned to emotionally let go of leading the work.
Building on that shift towards delegating problems, I also tried to slip into the background so others could lead those pathways. Before, I had been focused on socializing brain dumps of my thinking that others were asking me for (and I was super passionate about) and initiating the first steps of new projects to help set the team up for success.
Then, I quickly realized I needed to step back in order to set them up for success. I needed to make room for them to figure out how best to get started, forge their own partner relationships, shape the strategy and planning, be the instigators of momentum, and act as the vigilant orchestrators keeping details from slipping through the cracks. So, as much as I wanted to keep sharing my perspective when asked and leading when looked to, I tried my best to turn the questions back around, leave open ambiguity, let the loose ends go, and put the next steps on them to plan. I tried to gently guide over directly resolve.
I quickly realized I needed to step back in order to set them up for success.
Personally detaching from the project work was hard! And I definitely wish I still managed to contribute less in these ways. But, while being mindful of not overwhelming my teammates (I hope) with taking on more responsibility, I put next-level trust into them and honestly am so confident in how they’ll move forward.
I’m grateful that preparing for maternity leave has helped me truly embrace delegation and letting go…or at least do a better job trying. There’s a lot more growth for me to do there. And I can only imagine how much opportunity I’ll have to continue practicing these skills over the next few months as a new mom.
Lights off in this office. Here comes the most important job of my life.