Name: Charlotte Williams
Role: Chief of Staff & Director of Population Health
Childcare arrangements: My partner Jon does Monday–Thursday childcare, then he works Friday and Saturday. I work full-time over 4 days. Family day on Sunday!
Children: 2 – Martha aged 6, Caleb nearly 2.
Twitter handle: @CEmWilliams
Have you used skills learnt as parent in your career?
As a parent you have to be able to compartmentalise your thoughts away from particular issues or preoccupations quickly, otherwise you would get so distracted and fail to notice as a toddler wanders off! This is a useful skill to have in the workplace, and it has helped me recover more quickly from unexpected events, or move on from disappointment more effectively. It is also a key part of managing ambiguity and multiple projects – a feature of modern working life.
Parenting gives you an outlet for your creative mind which is always useful to keep active, and the skill of instinctively replenishing supplies to have always a fully-equipped, prepared-for-anything handbag at all times is invaluable. The day I saved my Managing Director from embarrassment by supplying a wet wipe at the right second was a proud parenting day!
Has your leadership style changed after having children?
With children I think you are so much more aware of the impact your behaviour and actions have on them – you see their faces crumple if you snap, you can see them getting demoralised if you don’t praise when you should, and you feel instant guilt and can’t blame the “System” or anyone else for the impact. This has made me more aware of my impact in my interactions with others. Staying positive, encouraging and motivating towards a despondent or grumpy small child has definitely a test of character and ability, and we need that strength to manage ourselves every day at work.
Why do you know you are a good enough parent?
I think we venture ever-so-slightly to hope we are good parents, but never feel comfortable that we are. That in itself might be a sign that we always want to do our very best.
When pregnant the first time I asked a child psychologist colleague what one tip he would give me to avoid psychological problems in my child? He said avoid stress; kids don’t need stress, they can’t handle it well and it has lasting impacts which he had noted in a 30-year career. This isn’t something we can guarantee, of course, but I have always tried to live by this and to keep my kids as insulated from the teeth-grinding ire and shouty rants often generated by the minor irritations of life as much as I can, and encourage them to let things go if they cannot really influence or control them.
I like to think that when my kids have confidence to take their place in the world by standing up for their opinion, when they are kind to others, show compassion and reach out to help and express empathy when others are in a tricky situation, that there might be an indication there that we are bringing them up OK.
When do you love combining leadership roles with caring for children?
When you can disarm a pompous crowd with a quote from your kids, or when you find the answer to your work problem in something you have done as a family – that is great. I cannot split my life in two and will always have my kids referenced in work, and part of me as a leader and how I behave in my job, as it makes me so much better, more comfortable and more genuine at home and away.
Tell us about a memorable Leader with Baby moment.
When my daughter was 8 months old, I was back at work and due to speak at a large engagement event with clinical colleagues across 8 NHS trusts, talking about a new approach to managing what they did every day. My partner had an emergency and had to leave Martha with me for an hour during my slot. We tried asking my PA to look after her, but she wasn’t having that. I delivered my PowerPoint slides with her on my hip, and had to repeat myself so many times as half the audience was too busy beaming at her. She was an adorable baby and ended up being passed around by surgeons, physicians, oncologists, nurses and managers from north London hospitals who I think we much more easily persuaded to sign up to our plans.
What is the biggest barrier you have overcome?
I have been so lucky in my partner taking such a clear stance on his commitment to child care. He sees nannies as out-sourcing and is happy to take on the major time burden as it is best for us all collectively. What a diamond, he is a wonderful man.
Probably my biggest barrier was convincing him to have a second child, particularly after I miscarried. We were so lucky – luckier than many friends close to us – to have a healthy child and did we want to take a risk that it might not happen again? In the end we did and we have two very (touch wood) healthy, happy children and we are very blessed. Sometimes I am still vaguely mystified as to how we all grew up and became this family of four.
What do you admire in parents?
Their selflessness in putting someone else first forever, to expose oneself to a crushing emotional vulnerability that will never go away, and a terrifying tiny dread in the back of your mind that something might one day happen to them; the resilience to embark on parenthood without a manual, in the face of widespread presumptions and judgement; the willingness to learn as you go and continue to learn and grow every day. There is real bravery and generosity in that.
Do you experience feelings of guilt?
Yes, whenever I am not quick enough or strong enough to stop myself taking something out on my kids, or when I have not listened or not noticed what matters most on a particular occasion. If I promise to be around, be at home and I’m not I feel I have let them down. School adds to my guilt as there are so many commitments parents are expected to meet, and I cannot possibly be there to do them all like other parents, which means my daughter doesn’t get to have her Mum there sometimes, when others do. That stings every now and then.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
- Babies don’t want money, so don’t save up for one.
- If one of you in your relationship cares a lot about something and the other doesn’t – do it. If neither of you does, don’t.
- Don’t panic about developmental milestones in your kids – they will be fine. If they aren’t, there will be help, you will manage it and they are still your kid – which is just fab.
- If you need/want to do something but think you’ll find a better time later – you won’t.
- Do something with your time away from your kids that feels good, as they will pick up how you feel – be pleased to tell your kids what you’ve worked at all week for them and for others, feel proud. You are investing your time in a better world.
What are you still hoping for?
I am hoping our kids will feel we are part of their lives, helping, supporting and entertaining them for as long as possible. I hope they will one day admire us (probably when they have their own kids!) I hope they will talk of us generously.
I am hoping my experience of work can continue to be as great with kids as it has been the last 5 years – and that there will always be parents ahead of me, leading the way and giving me inspiration to do more, and that I might be able to help others following me to make thinks a little better.