On maternity leave, work-life balance and not having to be nice all the time

Laura was a Director in Investment Banking who had just returned from maternity leave. She got in touch with Natalia shortly after returning to work as she was feeling tired and overwhelmed. She also struggled with guilt at not being as invested in her work as she was before, as well as not spending as much time with her baby as she would have liked to. She considered herself to be a highly driven professional who had always put her career first. She “wanted it all”, but did not know how to make it work. She also described herself as a real perfectionist and, as such, she found it very difficult to delegate tasks.

Desired Outcomes

Laura was offered Executive Coaching by her employer. The goals they established during the initial session were as follows:

  1. Delegate and Prioritise: Laura no longer had the luxury of staying in the office late as she had to collect her child from the nursery. The question was, what could she do in order to leave work at 5pm every day?
  2. Balance: Laura wanted to find the right equilibrium between her personal and professional lives, while continuing to develop professionally.
  3. Promotion to Managing Director: Before going on maternity leave, Laura had been on the list for promotion. Now that she was back from maternity leave, Laura was determined to make sure she was back on the list. However, it felt like she was spinning too many plates at the same time and she was starting to have doubts about herself and her abilities. Was it even realistic for her to become a Managing Director?


Up until this point in her life, Laura had been able to control and plan things easily as it was only her and her husband on the private front, and then work. She described herself as a perfectionist, putting herself under unnecessary pressure. Faced with a less flexible daily routine and a baby at home, Laura needed to learn how to delegate, prioritise and let go.

It was clear during the course of the programme that the reason behind her perfectionism was the fact that she genuinely thought she knew best and therefore she needed to do things her way. Also, it was very difficult for Laura to set clear boundaries around her and say no in certain circumstances. If she said no, she felt very guilty. Since she had returned to work, Laura was constantly run down, tired and overwhelmed.

Natalia and Laura also worked on her self-awareness. Laura quickly realised that to work efficiently and take care of her daughter, she needed to put herself first — which, again, she had never done. She started to set aside time for herself, which changed things drastically and increased her energy levels and sense of control.

Laura constantly felt guilty about leaving the office, particularly as in the past she had always been the last to leave. She found it very difficult to have a conversation with her team and line manager about this. During the programme we covered “difficult conversations”. She had always been perceived as very nice and was afraid of changing people’s perception of this, particularly so soon after returning from maternity leave. Together, Natalia and Laura worked on assertiveness and how to handle this sort of difficult conversation without changing the essence of who she was while getting her point across.

The third goal was definitely more challenging. Laura was very close to getting a promotion and she needed to be more visible and network at a senior level. Laura was naturally friendly, chatty and a very warm person. After returning from maternity leave she felt that this personality trait was further accentuated. Through incisive coaching, they soon discovered that Laura was afraid of being perceived as too bossy and that she had a strong need to be liked by everyone. On top of that, because the firm has been extremely accommodating with her in terms of flexible working, she felt that she had to be even friendlier. This, in turn, sent mixed messages to colleagues on those occasions when she had to hold them accountable and deliver honest feedback. These insights led to her successfully trying out some new behavioural strategies without losing the essence of her friendly and enthusiastic style.

Next Steps

Natalia met with Laura again six months after the coaching programme had finished. She was a completely person. Not only was she fitter and healthier, but she also proudly talked about how she had managed to make time for herself and how she felt more in control and energised.

At work she had successfully managed to establish the routine of leaving every day at 5pm and not feeling guilty about it, though obviously picking up work in the evening when needed. She was being considered for the Managing Director promotion. She explained that the real eye-opener for her had been that she didn’t have to be a nice person all the time to be well-liked and do an outstanding job.

Names have been changed to preserve anonymity.

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