My Facebook feed recently showed a post from a friend who is a very respected leader at my former company, a promising billion-dollar Silicon Valley startup. His post announced that after four years (which is an eternity at a skyrocketing startup), he was leaving the company.
This friend had joined the company shortly after I did in 2014, and together we’d gone through a number of growing pains and challenges during our time there. He began as Senior Director of a certain branch of our Services business but was leaving as Vice President. Upon joining the company, he quickly became a respected thought leader for the entire business and was absolutely adored by the people in his organization.
His FB post showed a beautiful image of a group of my former co-workers, gathered around this man at a large restaurant table. To someone who didn’t know better, it looked like a group of old friends just having a beer (which it partly was). But to me, having spent three years in the trenches with these individuals, I saw the complete story behind their smiles: the arguments, the struggles, the intense customer projects, countless failures and even more victories, the contentious debates about the future of our company and our services business… many squabbles, a few tears, and millions of laughs. For me, this one post and this one picture brought all that back in an instant, as I’d filed away most of these memories since my own departure from the company last summer.
And now, our revered leader was moving on too.
I expected the final sentence of his post to say something about where he was headed next – likely a high-powered position at an even more reputable company. But what he said next took me by surprise. “My plan is to be stay-at-home-dad for a little while.” Actually, it didn’t totally surprise me because I know this man is a very engaged father and family man. But someone with his resume and network… he could be moving right into any position in The Valley that he wanted.
Yet here he was, coming off a career high point, deciding to stay home with his kids who are at a very precious age. It caused me to reflect on the fact that, as far as women have come in obtaining professional equality, men have done the same on the side of family responsibility and the role they play at home.
Gen X, Gen Y and now Millennial dads are more involved in the raising of their children than any generation of men before. And it’s not out of duty or obligation just because mothers are pursuing careers (although that was a definite catalyst). It’s out of sheer desire to be involved and part of the lives of their children, as evidenced by my friend who is choosing to “Lean OUT” of his skyrocketing career and “Lean IN” to his family.
We need more leaders to make these types of choices, showing the rest of us that it’s okay to turn down an impressive title or more money, to forego the fast track to the c-suite. It’s okay to put your family before your career, even if there are no external factors forcing you to do so. Just because you place more value on your family and your role as a parent, doesn’t mean you don’t care about your career and your professional accomplishments.
We need more leaders – men and women – displaying these priorities, assuring the rest of us that it’s okay to be balanced, it’s okay to be human, it’s okay to Lean OUT.
As for my friend, I wish him all the best in his new role as CDO – Chief Dad Officer. I know he’s going to love it and will excel. And I know it will only be a short time before he’s back on the professional fast track. But for now, he’s following his passion and doing what’s best for him and his family. There’s nothing that better defines “successful career” than that.
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