I became a mom about a year after I became a manager. Three more kids and many more leadership roles followed. Along the way I discovered that the skills I needed to be a good mom were the same ones I needed to be an effective leader. Not only were those skills transferrable, the more I developed them in one sphere of my life, the more they helped me improve in the other.
Let’s talk about patience. When I first became a manager I wasn’t a particularly patient person. But you need patience when you’re a leader. So I trained myself to slow down, enunciate more clearly and become an active listener— the exact same skills I had to hone on the job as a mom.
Patience is a parenting survival skill. If you don’t develop it early on, you’re in for a rough ride. But the great thing about being a parent is that you get on-the-job training. Is there a better way to learn how to count to ten and choose your words carefully than by making a trip to the supermarket with a tired toddler in tow?
As a leader, you also have to think on your feet a lot because you have curve balls coming at you all the time. Let’s say a member of your team brings you bad news — the kind where hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake. If you lose your temper when you hear bad news, the person who delivered it won’t be keen to bring you news of that nature again. If they procrastinate about bringing it to you, and the problem’s fixable, it will be too late to do anything about it.
Being a parent also provides you with a crash course in learning how to think on your feet. Some days I come home from work and I have no idea what’s going to come out of my kids’ mouths. Not long ago one of my teenage daughters announced that she wanted to dye her hair fire engine red. Now I realize that as curve balls go this one does not qualify for the major leagues. Still, I had about one second to figure out how I was going to react to her request, how the discussion was going to go if I reacted in the wrong way, and make the call.
If I said, ‘No, absolutely not, over my dead body…’ —and if you’re the parent of a teenager I’ll leave it to you to finish that sentence—it was pretty clear to me where things were going to go. But if I stepped back and looked at the big picture, I’d probably realize that asking to dye your hair fire engine red is a fairly standard request for a teenage girl. Was this really a problem worth going to war over?
Being a mom also forced me to realize that when I was home, I’d allowed myself to become so distracted by work stuff that I wasn’t taking the time I should have to be present for my kids. For instance, when my son was younger, he’d call down to me at bedtime and ask me to come upstairs and tuck him in. I’d be on my computer trying to finish some work thing and I’d say, “Okay, buddy, give me a minute and I’ll come up.” But by the time I’d made it upstairs he’d fallen asleep. That experience forced me to wonder whether I was doing the same thing at the office. When someone knocked on my door and asked, “Have you got a minute?” after I said “sure” was I so focused on the task at hand that I didn’t stop what I was doing immediately to give them my full attention?
I realized that if someone had mustered the courage to knock on my door, they probably had information to share with me that they felt was pretty important, and I needed to immediately stop whatever I was doing and be fully present so that I could listen to them. I decided that whether I was talking to my kids, a staff member or one of our front-line employees, I needed to give them my undivided attention and communicate to them that nothing was more important to me in that moment than what they had to say. Connecting with your team, valuing the people they are and what they have to say is at the heart of great leadership. I learned that lesson being a mom.