Four lessons that parental leave has taught me … about my job as a Management ConsultantMay 22, 2022
[Originally published on LinkedIn, October 19, 2020]
Despite the fact that 2020 has warped our usual sense of time and space, it seems that I am now halfway through my five-and-a-half month stint as primary carer of my son, William.
You may have read my original article here, tinged with excitement and nervousness, signing off my work at PwC for the year.
I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned after almost three months in this new role and how much is surprisingly applicable to my day-job as a Management Consultant. Here are four lessons I’ve learnt so far.
1. Unconscious bias is everywhere
I drink a lot of coffee. Post 5:30am run coffee followed by morning-pram-walk-coffee, then 11am post-nap decaf. Then afternoon c… anyway, you get the idea. There’s a particular coffee shop here in Bathurst close to my wife’s medical practice that I drop into every few days. She’s often busy juggling patient appointments that run overtime, reviewing test results and following up with the nursing home around town, so I like to bring her a coffee at lunchtime to make her day a little easier. The barista invariably greets me with the same greeting every time: “Aw, isn’t that cute, you’re spending the day with your Dad!”.
While I know there’s no malice behind these kinds of presumptive comments - and that men are certainly not the great oppressed - they’re not isolated examples. William and I go to the 'mums-and-bubs' swim class on a Thursday. We get a few side-eye glances at the park. I get it, it’s perhaps not as common to see fathers out and about during the week but it got me thinking about all of the unconscious biases we harbour in the workplace. Despite our best conscious efforts, unconscious biases underpin the majority of the decisions we make. Studies have shown this time and time again with gender bias, the halo effect, similarity bias, and the list goes on. There’s a laundry list of things that we should be doing to combat unconscious bias, but the first step is certainly recognising not only that it exists, but thinking about our own biases.
2. Finding time to fulfil a passion energises your work life
Here’s a headline that’s news to precisely nobody: parenting is hard. Some days you bring more energy and enthusiasm to the job than others. Some days you’re willing to sing Hot Potato sixteen times and others, well, you quietly curse the Wiggles under your breath hoping that Jeff … doesn’t wake up. Nothing personal mate.
I noticed though that on the days that I’d been out running early in the morning, that I had a spring in my step and a more upbeat attitude for the day. The harder the run, the colder, the wetter, the bigger the struggle, the more patient I'd be through the tough stuff. It also became apparent to me that on the days when I felt like I was giving something back, fulfilling my Director role at The Footpath Library, that I was even more cheery. This was despite the fact that these days were some of the most challenging logistically. This was a lightbulb realisation for me, a reminder that time invested in doing the things we love can have a multiplier effect in the way we approach our work.
Incidentally, this thought process led me to challenge myself to run a 60km ultramarathon from Orange to Bathurst for BeyondBlue. From 4am on Saturday 7 November I’ll be suffering for (hopefully less than) 6 hours to raise money for a cause that I see as one of the challenges of our generation. This is the course which includes over 1,000m of vertical gain. If this cause is important to you, and you want to endorse my suffering, please tip a few dollars in. It would mean a great deal to me. (And if you donate more than the value of a coffee, I’ll buy you a coffee!)
(Sunrise at 6am, on a long training run behind Mount Panorama, three weeks out from the Ultramarathon.)
3. Set a routine (but don't be afraid to let it go)
I recently heard a former colleague of mine from Herbert Smith Freehills, Lisa Leong, on ABC radio talking about her morning routine. You can read the accompanying written piece here. She says that a daily routine supercharged her work life, starting with the Five Tibetan Rites (think yoga moves) at 4:45am and working through bulletproof coffee, meditation and journaling through to 6am. While she acknowledges that this kind of routine looks a little intense for most folk, she’s on point when she says a good routine can help you nail the work day and switch off effectively at night.
I’ve found this to be the same with my stay-at-home-dad life. Understanding when my work and exercise windows fall during the day, based on nap times, helps me mentally establish priorities while William is awake. Being able to silently plan domestic tasks and workouts on Zwift for these blocks reduces stress and anxiety and sets sets clear expectations… which is why it can be so galling when naps don’t work as planned. Remember: kids are unpredictable and patience is a virtue. And tomorrow is another day. And everything is a phase.
Reflecting on earlier in the year, I found the transition to working exclusively from home very difficult because my set routines were out the window. It was easy to start earlier, agree to later meetings, and become victim to the vicissitudes of lockdown life.
4. Who's the boss? And how do they lead...
My new boss is not a tyrant. Sure, he’s sometimes moody when he’s tired and hungry, but overall I’ve found him to be fair and patient. He understands the value of a good laugh. He inspires the team with a clear vision, sense of purpose and direction. Though yes, he could take feedback a little better. Okay, I know, technically he’s not the boss. But in these early months, it sure feels like it...
Autocratic, command and control style leadership was the norm in the workplace in decades gone by. Decisions were made by managers, with very little input from the employees. Clear direction was given on tasks as well as how and when to complete them. I was interning in both investment banks and law firms in the late 2000s and certainly saw the tail end of this culture.
I recently had a conversation with a colleague who has three young sons. He explained that when he was a boy, his parents didn’t give him a say in a lot of decisions or explain the logic that underpinned them. He and his wife strive, where possible, to make sure his boys feel included in decision making. This seems to be a trend amongst parents I know, even those with very young children. Ask, consult, discuss, decide.
It does feel like this broader shift is analogous to the leadership changes I’ve seen in the workplace. First hand experience has shown me that good leaders are authentic, collaborative and enable their teams to self-determine large parts of their workflow. Removal of the command-and-control style of management has unlocked creativity and innovation across industries. It creates competitive advantage. It’s the kind of leadership we all crave.
Overall, parental leave isn't exactly what I expected. It's both better - and harder - than I had thought. With mid-January fast approaching, what I do know is that I'm going to miss spending every day with my favourite colleague to date.
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