For the weaker leader, a request for parental leave is a potential disaster threat to BAU as well as a potential minefield! YOU are not that leader.

This is an opportunity to masterfully display your leadership skills, cement your team and take the opportunity to be highly effective at an extremely emotive time for any parent.

So the next time someone says ‘Can I have a quiet word’… here’s my view on the top 3 things you might want to consider:

1. Leverage the relationship

2. Devise a parental leave plan & build in resilience

3. Encourage ‘parents to be’ to take time off


1. Leverage the Relationship

Here’s your opportunity to impact the most. The best leaders I’ve worked with and for have one thing in common. They have highly developed ways to build deep relationships with their team and see it as a crucial part of their success.

Your relationships and the degree you personally/deeply know your team will be at different stages. Whether you work super hard at getting to know your team or whether you are becoming aware of the importance of doing this, here’s your opportunity to make a massive leap in the strength of your relationship.

You have a choice here about how you respond; Task or Relationship focused. I’m suggesting you choose to stay very focussed on relationship.

Task driven might start leading you to ask more questions about the impact – ‘remind me of the project delivery dates’ (there will be a time for this) rather than focusing on the news itself. Focusing on the relationship will send you into a mindset space where you might say “this is great news’, “I’m personally so happy for you” or “How are you feeling about it all”.

Your job here is to make them feel as supported as possible and that you are interested in THEM. It is likely that they in return walk away feeling really positive and supported about the discussion (regardless of how you might actually really be feeling).

Of course you should be suggesting to meet up very soon and discuss how you support them moving forward, but that conversation is not for now.

Always good to remember that the rest of the team will be very closely watching how you deal with all of this…and how this might impact them…now or in the future.


2. Devise a Parental Leave plan – Build in Resilience

There are some things as a leader you just have to deal with and parental leave is one of them.

You will have become (becoming) familiar with the fact that any fine tuned plan is under constant attack by change (e.g. budgets, resourcing, market forces, new competition etc) so having clarity on the levers you might pull to build flexibility into how you deliver ‘stuff’ has become super important to continually review. As we know, leaders are under greater scrutiny during challenging times.

So here are a few ideas about what you might consider:

  • Who on your team is ready for a stretch/new assignment/challenge?
  • Who on someone elses’ team might be interested in a secondment/move/workshare?
  • Who have you recently met that has an ‘attitude’ you’d love to replicate – breed in your team?
  • Might this provide an opportunity to collaborate with other areas?
  • Is this an opportunity to consider realigning priorities, rejigging responsibilities (stopping doing some stuff)?
  • What if we…?

Seize this opportunity to get on the front foot and think about your team strategically, but with the confidence you have some levers to pull when things change – it just might come in use for other forced changes too.


3. Encourage ‘parents to be’ to Take Time Off

At this point, I’m guessing you’re thinking – ‘Linda you’re nuts’… bear with me.

Whilst we are used/comfortable with women taking maternity leave, paternity leave on the other hand is a fairly new thing. How many men take paternity leave (in your company)? Why is that? How many are considering the impact of taking none/some/all of their entitlement, on their careers? But nothing that individuals taking maternity leave haven’t considered too?!

Maternity & Paternity are now considered by many as equally important. Research is suggesting that the younger generations hitting the workforce will regard it as more important than ever before. The desire for both men & women (to much or lesser extent) to take an active role with their children underpins this.

Ok… but why do I need to encourage them to take time off?

  • You are judged by BIG events that matter to other people

When you’ve had something big happen in your life you can probably remember those that supported you and those that just didn’t. These big moments in our lives have a huge impact on how we feel about people, disproportionately so. How they feel about YOU right now matters – after all people leave people not companies.

  • People need more permission than you ever think

One of the things that has really struck me working with people in all types of roles (from those who would consider themselves as ’billy big biscuits’ to more moderate senior and middle management) is that people need permission more than you think e.g. to make mistakes, make bold decisions and to do things differently.

So to get to the bottom of how they really want to manage this (remove any possible resentment / opportunity loss) and talk to them, more than you think necessary and directly give them permission and put in place the support to enable leave to happen.

I hope this has provided some food for thought – I truly believe there’s a real chance to disproportionately improve your team’s performance and how you are viewed as a leader during a time that is often considered a potential leadership / BAU performance threat.

Linda Armstrong


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