Having a baby changes your life, and for Aytekin Tank, founder and CEO of the online form builder JotForm, launched in 2006, it also changed his company. Tank had avoided the traditional top-down management system with departments and silos by creating small cross-functional teams in which everyone was exposed to the entire software creation process. When he and his wife were expecting their second child, he decided to expand employees’ roles even further, training a portion of his 75 employees to take over his job while he took a three-month paternity leave.
“I didn’t want it to turn into a work-from-home situation,” he says. “My intent was to be fully present for this important time for our family, spend a lot of time with our two-and-a-half-year-old, and connect with the newborn.”
Handing Off His Role
Tank started to prepare his company early in his wife’s pregnancy. He reviewed his daily tasks to determine if they could be delegated or automated. “For example, hiring was mostly being done by me,” he says. He quickly delegated the task to his COO.
Analyzing his daily schedule also made Tank realize that he was doing some tasks because his company was small and they didn’t fit anyone else’s job description. “For example, our security bug bounty program was handled by me,” he says. He delegated that task to one of his developers who demonstrated a high level of responsibility and a good knowledge on security in the past. Another example was the design reviews of our product changes. “Since I am very product-oriented, I have always done reviews on the changes,” says Tank. “These reviews were delegated to our new director of product design.”
Tank trained employees one-on-one, demonstrating how he did the task and then working with the person to ensure the expectations are clear. If the task had a lot of moving parts, he documented it in steps on Google Docs. “Then, I observed how this person performed the task,” he says. “If assistance was needed, I was there to step in and provide additional help or advice.”
Another key preparation was making sure that the company vision and future plans were clearly visible to all employees. “During our weekly all-hands Friday afternoon demo days, I presented our plans for the near future and I explained what is really important for us and why,” he says. “These talks helped them make decisions more easily while I was away so they don’t waste time going in the wrong direction.”
During his leave, Tank visited the office three times, but only to sign important documents. He spent about 30 minutes a day checking email, forwarding anything important to someone else to handle. He didn’t do any phone or in-person meetings.
Letting go of his duties and entrusting his employees made Tank realize that he had been holding onto certain tasks out of habit or control. “With hiring, I feared that if we hired the wrong person, that would have catastrophic results for our company,” he says. “On the contrary, in most of the cases, the tasks were done better. The most surprising part was that I was doing a worse job on some of the tasks, probably because I wasn’t able to dedicate enough time on them.”
Tank also got clarity on his role. “It’s very easy to get lost in the weeds and not see the big picture,” he says. “As leaders, we need to spend more time ‘on’ our business instead of ‘in’ our business so that we can imagine a future and design our business to meet that vision. This helps solve problems that block our path, and it’s only possible if we delegate well. Being away from JotForm for three months helped me get better at this.”
Returning to the office three months later, Tank found a stronger company. “Tasks are getting done better and faster, and the team has an incredibly strong sense of our mission,” he says. “The teamwork ethic is off the charts.”
Taking a leave of absence also demonstrated Tank’s priorities: “Most companies give lip service to a work/life balance, but I think it is very important, and it is important that our employees do as well,” he says. “I tried to set a good example to them by taking time for my family, and I want my team to do so as well.”
And there was a greater, more rewarding benefit: “My three-month-old smiles at me when he sees me because we have such a close connection, and my two-and-a-half-year-old loves his dad more than ever and has shown great progress on things like speech and physical skills due to the time I was able to dedicate to him,” he says.