Karin’s Leadership Articles

I wasn’t going to weigh in on Marissa Mayer’s choice to take a 2 week maternity leave, because quite frankly, I’m conflicted. I know the choices I’ve made (and continue to make) as a working mom leave some of my friends scratching their heads. “Why would she want to travel like that?” “All this time working on that book can’t be good for her kids.”  Sometimes they say it, sometimes I just see it in their eyes, or hear it as subtext to their question, “oh where are you off to this week?”

So I’m a bit in the camp of “who are we to judge?” But then again moms and dads at Yahoo and elsewhere will watch her actions more than her policies and take notes about what it takes to get ahead. Just as my team (then) and you (now) watch mine.

But when I got this note from an LGL tribe member I realized the topic was worth bringing to our community for insights. And that avoiding the subject because of my own discomfort was weak. #notconfidentorhumble

Hope you’re doing well. I was very sorry to hear of the passing of your mother. I lost my father earlier this year.

My purpose for getting in touch is because there seems to be a pretty good buzz going on regarding women and executive roles lately with Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer’s announcement to take only 14 days off after the birth of her twins. I could not think of a better person to ask about this. Not that I’m planning for children but there very well could be a number of young women who are on the fast track to executive leadership, yet also desire to have a family. Ultimately, it’s not anyone’s place to judge this woman, but there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that her decisions will influence potentially thousands of young women’s future career pathing.

What I found interesting about the article I have referenced below is that there is no mention of the role her husband plays / will play in their family unit.

How Marissa Mayer’s Maternity Choice Effects Young Women

What say you?

So I offer you my initial response, and then a bit more. I’d love for you to weigh in.

My Initial Quick Response

I’m sorry to hear about your father. It’s hard.

Wow. That’s a great article. I agree with what’s said there. It’s also really audacious to assume everything is going to go perfectly well and that nothing will change.

I did come back a bit early from my maternity leave due to some crazy circumstances at work (I had planned to take 3 months and took 2), but quite frankly, I’m not the hangout with a baby all day type 😉 I’ve made choices that I know make other mothers cringe, like the kind of travel I’ve done at various points in my career. So I think it really has a lot to do with personal choice. In my case, I have a very supportive husband who really does his share of the parenting. I know many female execs for whom the dad is the stay at home parent.

For me it’s about seasons.   If I can pull it off time wise.  I might try to get this out on the blog for our LGL community to weigh in. See Seasons, Messy, and Doing the Best You Can

After deeper consideration

It was a debate my mom and I had for years often resorting to tears on both sides. She had some regrets of time she took off to raise kids, and yet gave me a good bit of grief early on about my choices. We agreed on one aspect of this topic–raising kids is a vitally important job which moms and dads need to take seriously. We had different approaches.  In her final months as she reflected on her life for a video at her church she shared, “I look back at my life and I’m so grateful that my children are all significant human beings raising other significant human beings.”

It’s true. Her sacrifice made a huge difference in who we became and are becoming. On the surface I did it radically differently. My sister took a middle road. I feel confident that both of us carried forward the investment legacy the best we could muster and are supporting one another in the process.

I’m probably channelling mom, here (I hope so). Part of me worries for Marissa, that she may later regret what she’s missed. One thing I do know is that the life YOU build you live with. Corporations, are well… not people. You might just sacrifice a lot to find out something out of your control screws up your plan.

What I do know from both my mother and my experiences is that you reap what you sow. Not just for women but for any human investing in other human beings. Whether you are working to invest as a parent, friend, volunteer, or leader your focus and effort matters. If you’re going to go the high-intensity-career route, you DO need a pit crew. Not mentioning who’s helping to me seems like a miss.

P.S. My Dad (a HUGE player in our pit crew)  and Sebastian hung out while Marcus and I travelled to Oregon on a well-needed reconnect and for this shoot. Investing in your relationship is such an important part of being a healthy parenting team.

P.S.S. I know my posting has been spotty this week. I apologize. I had the final edits due to the AMACOM editor book converge with the timing of my trip to Oregon to film my multi-media course (can’t wait to show you the previews!) AND a last minute keynote on the 7 roles of a highly engaging manager (which was a blast) thrown in.. and yes the husband reconnecting.  It’s been quite a wonderful and busy week. Namaste.

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Here’s a little postcard. If you’re a parent-leader and have not downloaded my free Parent’s Guide to Leadershipkarinandmarcus, I offer more perspective.


Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Alli Polin

    I took 12 weeks off when my first child was born and then quit my 9-5 job because she had health issues that reqired time and travel (she’s totally fine now). Although I stopped working inside of a corporation for a time, I started my coaching practice and ultimately, when my kids were 2 & 4 went back full time with loads of travel.

    It’s impossible to say what’s enough time to take off when a baby is born. My cousin started working again (from home) at two weeks and she has raised very happy and extremely well-adjusted children. I’m very much in the “do what’s right for you” camp. Enough women (and men) have judged my choices over the years that I refuse to judge others. The amount of external help varies, personal needs vary and on top of it, having a full life that makes a parent happy will create a home where happy childen thrive.

    Look forward to the discussion that evolves here.

    Thanks, Karin!

    ~ Alli

    • Karin Hurt

      Alli, Thanks so much for sharing your story and that of your cousin. All, Alli is the co-author of our FREE ebook, a Parent’s Guide to Leadership– and a great leader and mom.

  2. Regina

    I think the article raises some good points, and although I am reticent to pass judgement on anyone else’s parenting choices at well, there is one piece that I think is missing from the article, from the conversation about Mayer or the other top executive women who have made this radical choice around their maternity leave – and that is remembering their class privilege in this choice. She can return to work and afford the full-time live in nanny (or more likely two nannies) that she’ll need if her husband also works full-time (which based on cultural norms and lack of mentioning anywhere, I’ll assume is true). No day care center will even take an infant before three months (and rightly so I think) so millions of families in this country can’t even make the choice to return to work early. She will have the power in her job that should the nannies call in sick, should her child need an extra hug after a bad day or a sleepless night, her child can come to the office and spend time with her (which I hope she will choose) without repercussions from superiors (and again, I’m assuming, a vast private office where a nanny and a small baby could set up for an afternoon if need be). Nowhere does she point out that she is returning to work because she can- she has the tremendous financial resources to pay for whatever she needs- something not afforded to many working families. I think she’s forgotten that the ability to make the choice she’s making is a privilege that not many women have the ability to make and instead used that to set a precedent that is an impossible standard.

    • Karin Hurt

      Regina, Thanks so much! That’s such important perspective you raise tremedous points about the choices that come with privilege. You are so right.

  3. Patrick von Schlag

    As with all things in life, managing parenting responsibilities against career opportunities is fraught with tradeoffs. “The proof is in the pudding”, as they say. Well, I happen to know your children. Your children demonstrate all of the signs of incredibly successful parenting; drive, independence, creativity, sensitivity, and each is making a hugely positive impact on the world.

    The hardest part of this from my perspective is that the balance requires calibration from time to time, based on the needs of your family and the needs of your organization. I encourage everyone (as I try to do myself) to pay enough attention to all the parties to adjust as you can. None of us truly has it all, but I think you’ve come about as close as anyone could.

    • Karin Hurt

      Patrick, Thanks so much for your very generous words. I happen to know your children too, and the feeling is mutual. I so agree with you, calibration and communcation are critical.

  4. Larry Kohlenstein

    Karin, somehow from the title I knew this was a blog I should not miss. It has your trademark candor and honesty. This is not a one size fits all issue. In fact, one size doesn’t fit anyone perfectly. Like many things, the tradeoffs are hard. You identify well some of the key foundation elements of any approach. love Dad

    • Karin Hurt

      Dad, I was hoping you would weigh in 😉 Thanks.

  5. Amy Birney

    I’m a single mother by choice so my pit crew is… well, non-traditional at best. I took 12 weeks off when my son was born–and hated almost every minute of it. Like you, I’m not really cut out for staying home with a baby. Once back to work, I was a much better mom and happier person. My now-8-year-old son gets rave reviews from adults everywhere for his delightful personality and behavior. So, I’m in the “do what works for you and don’t judge” camp and I know lots of different work-life models produce wonderful humans.

    But all is not roses, of course. There are times when my son would like more of my time and attention. He really hates when I travel–even though it means time with Grandma. And I sometimes don’t maintain enough balance to be the mom I want to be. And then I course correct. Just like all thoughtful parents do when we veer off.

    As for Marissa’s choice as a model for other women: Her early return to work does send the message that she (and, by extension, “leaders”) put their work at a very high priority. I would love to see another high-profile CEO (woman or man) successfully take a longer maternity/paternity leave. That would be a news story that I would follow.

    • Karin Hurt

      Amy, Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. Oh, I agree, it’s not all roses. I agree, I’d love to hear from a high-profile exec who did take a longer leave when their child was born. Hopefully, someone may even weigh in here.

  6. Malaika Marable Serrano

    Hi Karin,

    Thanks for raising this issue! I took two months off and telecommuted the third month with both of my children. I think it really comes down to a woman and her partner’s choice for what is best for baby and family.

    Malaika Serrano

    • Karin Hurt

      Malaika, Thanks so much for sharing your views.

  7. Rachelle

    Hi Karin,
    I’ve followed your blog regularly for a while now, often sharing your posts with my colleagues and peers because of the authenticity, practical and honesty that you bring to all your topics. Thank you for that.
    As a Canadian, a mom and a leader I find this conversation and this issue fascinating on so many levels! We’re fortunate here in Canada to have 12-month parental leave protected by legislation and employment benefits to help maintain a basic income level during that period as well . While I find it hard to even imagine what it would be like going back to work a few weeks or even months after having a child, I also believe that every parent makes the choices that are best for them so I try really hard not to judge those choice. I know that even here in Canada not everyone has a job or support system that allow them to take the full year off and Regina’s comment about class privilege applies equally here as it does in the US but I still find the idea of 2-3 months of leave after having a child, well, uncomfortable. I was able to take the full 12 months off after each of my two sons were born and while I went back to work eagerly each time I wouldn’t have given up that time for anything in the world. Does Ms. Mayer’s choice send a message to other aspiring leaders? Maybe but I think it is also opening up healthy dialogue like this one about the importance of choice and what society can and should do to support families so the decisions they make are truly about choice and what’s best for them and their family, not about financial necessity or job security.

    • Karin Hurt

      Rachelle, Awesome. I’m so glad you weighed in with your perspective. What a difference it can make to have the support of the government protection like that. I know the US lags behind many countries in terms of supporting parental leave. Thanks for your support of LGL and I hope you will continue to offer your insights in future discussions.

  8. Paula Kiger (Big Green Pen)

    I struggled with that too, Karin. On the one hand, her choices are apparently working for her, in a “not broken/don’t fix it” kind of way. I worked my children’s entire childhoods, and still (they are 16 and 19) have a degree of regret about that, because I believe “quantity” time is as critical as “quality” time. I think my regret colors my commentary about choices like Mayer’s. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.

    • Karin Hurt

      Paula, Thanks so much for sharing your insights. Always valuable. It will be interesting to see if any perspective changes with time.

  9. Jill K Herr

    Each maternity situation is personal and each family certainly has to figure out what is right for them. I absolutely love the work I do and I also was very much a be at home for 12 weeks with a baby (and still with my older kids every opportunity I can get) kind of person. Perhaps the greatest work compliment I received as a supervisor was an unexpected Mother’s Day card from a team member. In the card was a thank you for helping the moms in our department figure out how to balance home and work and for providing a great example. I am also fortunate to work for an organization that honors both maternity and paternity leave and has a CEO who just sincerely spoke to our leadership team on the importance of working hard and playing hard. In terms of maternity leave, for a mom that chooses to breast feed, a solid maternity leave is somewhat essential. Truly each family is unique and has dynamic priorities to consider as the children grow. I think the key is investment in all that you do and knowing where the priorities lie.

    • Karin Hurt

      Wow, Jill (Jill is my sister who is an AMAZING mother and professional, Director of Rehab). I love that you got a mother’s day card from your employees. That says a lot. You really raise an important point about the breastfeeding!

  10. Natalie

    I am overwhelmed by the different perspectives here; which is half the reason I sent this question / conversation to Karin. While children are not in MY plan, they very well could be in the plan of future leaders that I will have the potential to influence. Leadership development has been and continues to be an ongoing learning experience for me. What I have taken away from this conversation (which did not disappoint!) is that everyone is going to have different needs and points of views when it comes to situations like this, and no one is right or wrong. What some will have to realize is that you have to live with the decisions you’ve made, and as Paula mentioned there may be regrest along the way. But when a person is in as high of a profile role as Marissa and chooses to announce a “plan”, it’s clearly important to be sure and announce a bullet proof one that allows for mistakes, complications, and includes talking about your “pit crew”. Avoiding those important elements just opens one up for questioning, potential ridicule, and doubt.
    What I continue to be curious about is whether Marissa’s announcement (without additional details) could limit Yahoo’s future talent pool. There are many “high tech” companies to choose from in Silicon Valley. Could an announcement like this put a flaw in Yahoo’s attractiveness to potential future employees?

    • Karin Hurt

      Natalie, I’m so glad that you wrote to me and sparked this important conversation which otherwise would have been missing. So grateful to all who weighed in (for anyone else, it’s not too late 😉

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