10 Steps to Being a Happy CEO/Mom

happy mom

Philosophical discussions of the choices of CEO moms are fascinating, but how do executive women in the trenches actually make it work day to day? One founder offers her advice. 

By Kakul Srivastava (CEO & Co-founder, TomFoolery)

Though the debates raging about leaning in or installing a nursery in your office have been fascinating to read,­­ they miss the point of helping women (and all parents) figure how to really make it work. Thriving children, ambitious career, happy spouse, and sanity ­­ is it really possible to have it all?

As a start­up CEO without enormous cash flow, an amazing (but also hard-working) husband, and two adorable (but young) kids, I’ve been juggling this conundrum for some time. My answer ­­ yes, absolutely.

But like anything worth having, it requires commitment and some foresight. Here’s how I make it work.

Invest in Your Process

Some executive moms have passels of nannies and handlers, but most of us don’t. Technology can help.

  • Google Calendar is your friend. Share a calendar with your spouse. Make sure they share one with you. Create a calendar for your kids’ schedules, and make sure you, your partner, and your child caretaker (if any) can all read and write to it. Be obsessive about keeping it up ­to­ date. Gluten-free cupcakes needed for preschool? Make sure there is a reminder in the calendar for the weekend prior.
  • Create a culture of over communication. Share photos of kids with each other. ­­Even a photo or two a day can help take away that feeling of “missing out” that eats at your soul. Make time for facetime/Skype, especially when traveling, but even when you aren’t. That small touch point means a lot to your kids, and it’ll make you feel great too. Share your work life with your kids. Tell them why do you do it. Share what was good about your day, and what wasn’t. Invite them to do the same. Create bridges. Bring them to the office on weekends if you have to go in (Steve Blank has a great post in the WSJ where he discusses this).

Plan for Success

Over-commit in your infrastructure, learn to delegate (at home and at work), assume that you’ll be far busier and more needed that you can imagine.

Be Ready for Failure

There will be bad days. Your co­-founders will think you’re a slacker, your email will build up, you’ll miss an important school function, the kids will need an emergency doctor visit, there won’t be any clean underwear, and dinner will be out of boxes. Sometimes all on the same day.

You have to be emotionally ready for those days and know that you and your village will be there to pick it all up the next day.

Pick Your Team Carefully (Part 1)

Find co­founders who complement your strengths, but can also cover for you if needed. Being a SPOF can feel very gratifying in the short run, in the long run, it will kill you.

Pick Your Team Carefully (Part 2)

Same applies to your team at home. I couldn’t agree with Sheryl more. You have to agree to 50% with your partner. You have to find caretakers who will support you­ not just by being part of your kids’ schedule, but also, in supporting your success. Find friends who can help in emergencies, and make sure you can give back to them in some way too.

Don’t Divide Your Life by Hours

In modern work, you can’t be CEO from nine to ­five and mom from six to nine, and so on. Neither work nor home life work that way anymore. The flu doesn’t wait for the weekend and a PR emergency doesn’t wait for 9am. You have to build a system that allows you to live both lives at the same time. Technology can help (sign up for Tomfoolery!).

Don’t Restack the Dishwasher

The incredible Pat Yarrington, CFO of Chevron, admonished us not to do this when she came to speak at my business school 14 years ago. It’s the single best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten. Figure out what’s important to control, and let go of the rest. I recently asked my husband to plan my son’s birthday party. The goody bags weren’t organic, the food was basic at best, and maybe the party didn’t move along a carefully orchestrated timeline. But, everyone had a great time, and the kids were delighted. It was all ok, and now he’s the toast in our moms’ groups.

Celebrate Success All the Time

You can’t wait for retirement to judge if you did a good job. Every week that you’re happy is a success to celebrate. Make time to do it. Write thank you emails to people who help along the way.

Actively Plan Time to Recharge ­­From All Your Roles

The best Mother’s Day gift I ever got was a hiking/camping trip on my own. Turns out ­­ I’m a pretty interesting person even when I’m not a mom/­CEO!!

Re­evaluate Your Priorities Regularly

It’s far too easy to fall into the trap of measuring success by what others do. Remind yourself that you’re doing it your way, and check in with yourself to make sure that this is the life you want. Knowing you’re choosing to do this goes a long way when those bad days come along. It’s your journey — own it.

kakulAbout the guest blogger: Kakul Srivastava is CEO and co-founder of Tomfoolery, a mobile-first startup dedicated to building amazing apps for work. Over her career, Kakul has helped build some of the most loved consumer products– Adobe’s Photoshop line, Flickr, Yahoo! Messenger, and Yahoo! Mail. Kakul has two children and believes that working moms can be passionately dedicated to both their careers and their children. Follow her on Twitter @kakuls