This week I sat down with Michele Hoffman, Managing Director of Clarendon Partners, an Arlington, VA-based management consulting firm. She’s also the mom of 11-year-old boy and girl twins who is killing it professionally and personally. I wanted to know a little bit more about how she manages her three-ring circus to see if she had any strategies to share.
Wow, twins, let me guess, totally smooth sailing right?
After leaving the Federal government I spent twenty years in consulting and when I became pregnant with the twins, I was working for a large, global consulting firm. I knew I didn’t want to step back, that I wanted to keep growing my career, but I was realistic about becoming a mom to two at the same time. My boss had twins and knew what that whole thing entailed. Together, we made a strong plan. I moved off client delivery so that I wasn’t a key person, and took a more managerial approach that could be done from bedrest. Because I remained in a managerial role, I didn’t lose stature. I was realistic about what it means to be pregnant with twins, had a transition plan, and they were confident I was coming back. I worked up until a week before delivery.
How do you handle your role as a mom with coworkers? Clients?
If you can't make an early meeting don’t say “my son has a doctor’s appointment,” just say you have a conflict and reschedule. Don’t use your kids as your excuse. But if I’m trying to build a relationship with someone, particularly with a client, sure I’ll tell them. It’s all part of me and the relationship. I feel like I get more credit because I have kids. I am more relatable.
How do you share the load?
My husband loves to cook, it’s his quiet space. And well, we need to eat every day, so I don’t have to worry about food. We try to play to each other’s interests and strengths. If he likes something, he’ll do it.
What do you let go of?
You have to pick your battles. I don’t care about what my kids wear or how crazy my daughter’s hair is. But just like with work, I need to transfer accountability to my kids. I need to be in the Quality Assurance (QA) role, not the execution role. If something needs to be done I hand it off so I can review it and make sure it’s on track. For example, I cannot be the mom alarm in the morning. My kids have alarms and if they miss the bus they have to walk to school. I try to delegate more and give more ownership so it’s not all on me.
What is the best piece of work advice you’ve ever received?
For women, and especially in consulting, just ask. It’s that simple. For a long time I would do lots and lots of things expecting others to notice, expecting recognition and promotion. But do you know what? Most people have their own things to worry about and are not thinking about what was going to get me to the next level. So I asked. I said “I want to be a managing director, how I get there? What do I need to do be a managing director?” Get mentors. How do you get them? Older, younger, anyone you respect. Reach out to men. Getting a well-rounded perspective is valuable as you go through the different stages in your career and in your life. Just ask people for advice. It’s good for mentorship, coaching, business development, relationship development.
How do you manage kid’s activities?
Stick to one sport each, and switch off transportation duties with husband or rely on carpools and grandparents. I just realized that every parent doesn’t have to go to every single practice! I got better at village building and sharing the load with other parents. Having a strong neighborhood is so key here. We have similar philosophies, like we don’t set up playdates. Instead we just send them out to play, and if it’s not a good time our neighbors know to send them home. Go play ball in the street, it doesn’t have to be a sports team or planned activity.
Now that my kids are older, I find the summers really tricky. How do you manage?
Hire a teacher as a summer nanny! They’re available, will teach your kids, but you have to recruit nearly a year ahead. I share mine with a neighbor. We have found over the years you need to set the weekly schedule as well as a budget for activities.