We set ourselves up to fail if we don’t acknowledge how work and life intersect, says Facebook’s boss in Europe, Nicola Mendelsohn

My husband and I lead incredibly busy lives, which makes weekly date nights somewhat of a challenge! Instead, we commit to one a month, and each organise six per year.

Similarly, I exercise twice a week, rather than every day. And walking counts! I don’t keep these goals in my head; I write them down in my annual ‘vision’ document, alongside my business aims. I encourage everyone at Facebook to do the same, because being our true, multifaceted selves at work is essential.

We’re accustomed to a masculine, army-inspired way of working, but when I arrived at Facebook, I learned about the importance of creating a vision for your whole life. It’s one of the best tools I’ve ever learned – and I encourage everyone to do it.

I write my vision from the point of view of a year’s time, looking back. Right now, it would say: ‘It’s August 2020 and I am doing X, Y and Z.’ It has three areas: work, personal and community. Work is the easiest because you’ll likely have planned this with your manager already. On the personal front, map the life you want, rather than the one that rocks up and hits you in the face! When writing this part of my vision, I’ll sit down with my husband and kids, Gabi, 22, Danny, 20, Sam, 17, and Zac, 14, and talk about what we want to do that year. I have to tempt my older kids into spending time with us by discussing which holidays they might like to go on and when! The final element of community is about giving back, because research shows those who do so are happiest.

Write down what you’re going to do and how – I’ve seen it done on napkins or as beautiful pieces of prose. Your vision isn’t fluffy or unattainable, so be specific. You want to be a better friend? How? To whom? Who can help? Mine is one side of A4 and I share it with my work region, saying: ‘This is my plan for the next 12 months, hold me accountable!’ Along the way, people check in and ask how it’s going – exercising twice a week, and all!

Having an open leadership style meant that when I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma in November 2016, my approach didn’t change. My colleagues were among the first people I told. What I hadn’t appreciated was that being open about something deeply personal allowed others to feel more comfortable sharing their vulnerabilities.

Sheryl Sandberg has been a huge inspiration to me in this regard, but my mother and grandmother are my biggest influences. Both worked when I was young, and my mum, who is in her 70s, still runs her catering business. For me, it was 100% normal to have working women around me, but that wasn�t every woman�s experience. Early in my career I had mostly male bosses, and I can�t recall a senior woman who had children. I always wanted a family, but rather than letting that inhibit my view of what I could achieve, I wanted to create workplaces where it�s easier for women.

I manage my time by prioritising my family. I say to my kids, ‘What do you want me to be at? What really matters to you?’ When I was more junior, I’d try to have open conversations: ‘I have sports day on Thursday afternoon, so can we avoid scheduling the client meeting then?’ I’ve heard of women leaving coats on their chairs to appear as though they’re in the office when, actually, they’re at the doctor’s, but we’re all human. Being honest about needing to attend to kids, ageing parents or depressed friends is important, because missing the things that matter eats us up. Minimising that feeling is, to me, the key to good leadership – and a contented life.

‘Create a vision for your whole life’


Join the Facebook VP EMEA in conversation at Red’s Smart Women Week event: Leadership Lessons with Nicola Mendelsohn. WHEN? Thursday 3rd October HOW MUCH? £20 WHERE? 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, London TO BOOK visit