Being a mother and being a leader is a privilege!
Being a mom has been, and continues to be, one of the greatest joys of my life. I’ve experienced many highs, suffered through some lows, doubted myself, learned much, and have been stretched to grow in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I first started this journey almost 40 years ago.
As I reflect this mother’s day on the lessons that have taught me to be a better mother, I realize that many of the same principles apply to being a trusted and successful leader. Here are 7 leadership lessons I’ve learned from being a mom:
1. Take time to connect.
Connection requires time. “Quality” time is just a convenient rationalization to justify busyness and to ease our guilt from not spending “quantity” time with our children. The “quality” happens in unexpected moments during the “quantity.” I will never regret staying at home full time for 9 years, and then working only part time for man other years so that I could spend time with my children and build that connection.
Being a leader requires spending large amounts of time having conversations and actively engaging with your people and not isolating yourself in your own little world. Devote yourself to investing time in getting to know and encouraging the growth and development of your people and you’ll reap the rewards.
2. Set clear expectations
Part of being a good mom was setting clear expectations for my kids. They knew what was expected in terms of their behavior and attitudes, and what the consequences would be (either positive or negative) for meeting or not meeting those expectations. Your people at work need the same clear expectations regarding their performance. They need clear targets with identifiable rewards or consequences. It’s not fair to judge your people (or kids) for their actions if they weren’t clear on the goal in the first place.
3. Be the example
As a mom, I knew I had to set the right example for my kids. The same is true in being a leader. Your attitudes, the tone of voice you use in speaking to others, your work ethic, and the way you treat people are just a few of the ways you will influence your people. Just as a child will observe and often imitate their parents, your people are always taking their cue from the actions of their leader. Make sure you’re exemplifying the behaviors and values you want them to exhibit!
4. Be consistent
As a mom a learned quickly that I had to be consistent. Creating good habits and enforcing limits required me to be consistent. I could not ask for some behavior change today and let it go the next day. The same applies to leadership. Your people need to know that your expectations don’t change with your mood or whims. Performance follows consistency in leadership.
5. Keep a balance between love and limits
Too many rules and criticism, with little expression of love creates rebellious children. Too much love that sees everything children do as “children will be children” and doesn’t discipline, creates hooligans!
Children need judicious praise and expressions of love as well as clear and well reinforced limits. This combination creates security and encourages independence and creativity. That same balance is required in leadership.
People can work best when they know the parameters of their work and have the freedom and encouragement to explore the new, to learn from failure, and to know that their leader is keeping the big picture in mind and will not let them go wild.
6. Have fun
It’s easy to get bogged down in all the stress, tasks, and anxiety that comes with being a mom, but I learned to have fun and enjoy the journey as much as possible. Leaders need to remember to take work seriously, but not take themselves too seriously. Laugh at yourself, keep the mood light, and don’t be afraid to have fun with your staff. When the stressful times come, your people will be more willing to put in the necessary extra effort.
7. Encourage a positive environment.
Research shows that children, and adults too, need 5-9 positive interactions for every negative one in order to thrive. One of the primary roles of a mother is to validate her children. A mother’s approval imparts a tremendous amount of psychological and emotional confidence in a child that empowers him to grow in confidence and faith in his own abilities. Your staff needs your approval as well. When your people know that you accept them, desire the best for them, and will do whatever you can to help them succeed, you will have their loyalty and commitment in following your lead. When there is more positivity than negativity in the workplace, there is less stress, sicknesses, and absenteeism. People become more engaged and productivity increases when they know their efforts are appreciated.
Leading and managing adults at work is obviously not the same as parenting children, although some days it can certainly feel that way! However, the principles one uses to be a successful mother (or father) can be equally beneficial for success as a leader. Just like being a mother, the key is being consistent in your approach and having the best interests of your people in mind.
By no means are these seven principles a definitive list. I’m curious to know what lessons you’ve learned from being a parent or from observing parents, that apply to leadership. Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment.