Mark Zuckerberg recently made a splash by announcing that he’d be taking two months of paternity leave when his wife delivered their daughter (a baby girl named Max) a week ago. As a symbol of how the workplace needs to be more family-oriented and more accepting of putting family first, this is a step forward.
But what’s really important is not what Zuckerberg does in the next two months, but in the 17 years and ten months after that. The issue is that actually raising a child (as opposed to just having a child) is – for both women and men – not some temporary inconvenience that the right amount of leave will “fix.” The real opportunity for Zuckerberg is to innovate around how people can work differently, even in top jobs, so they don’t have to choose between their family and their work. This is a crucial issue for the future of the American corporation.
To that end, he might take some inspiration from House Speaker Paul Ryan, who refused to take his leadership position unless he could continue to return home to Wisconsin every weekend and be present in his kids’ lives. It would certainly be ironic if Washington, rather than the supposedly more innovative Silicon Valley, ended up transitioning first to a more livable workplace.
Unfortunately, today we have one primary mode of leadership that prizes a 24/7 work ethic. But it doesn’t have to be this way. As I have written in Fortune and in the WSJ, there are ways to creatively restructure work so even the most senior executives can have more options.
For example, jobs can be defined as a series of projects that can be sized to the amount of time someone wants to devote to work. Or, an executive’s contributions can be evaluated on quality and productivity with less emphasis on quantity. This would allow individuals to choose to focus on measurable things that make a difference to their organization and be judged on those results, not on the amount of time they choose to work.
Finally, leadership responsibilities can be divided and distributed more broadly, allowing for both a better match between skills and the work that needs to be done (after all, few can be great at everything a senior executives needs to do these days) and for a less intense schedule.
The reign of the 24/7 mentality puts pressure on CEOs to demonstrate publicly how hard they are working. Zuckerberg has taken an important first step in showing that not even a CEO needs to work 24/7. When he returns he needs to pull a Paul Ryan and make sure he continues to spend time with his family.
A truly visionary 21st Century business leader must do more than lead by example. It won’t help Facebook if his spending less time in the office means more work for his lieutenants. And two months off won’t help any new family balance the onslaught of work that follows. Where he really needs to assert his leadership is in changing the very nature of work itself. Pledging $45B (99% of his Facebook shares) to charity in honor of Max’s birth is nothing to sneeze at. But quite possibly, his ability to architect a new corporate world order that works for every family would be the gift she appreciates most.
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