Leadership Lessons from My Mom and My Other Mothers

12 May

Mothers Day seems the most fitting day to post on Leadership Voices. After all, it was our respect and admiration for the Strong Mother Leaders in our lives that led us to create this blog.

My own mother, Lynn, has been the most important role model in my life in the same way that the majority of others are to their children. I have also been incredibly blessed to have many other mother figures in my life, especially my amazing Mother-In-Law, Ann, my grandmothers, female supervisors, and older friends and relatives who have taught me the meaning of leadership, sacrifice, compassion, and teamwork.

Our recent post, Leadership Lessons from Mom Compilation, was one of my favorites to research and re-read because of the many memories and insights the various authors’ tales sparked in my own mind.

So, to honor and thank my mom, and the other inspiring mothers who have shaped the woman I am today, I humbly offer my own 5 Leadership Lessons from Mom version here.

1. The best way to lead is always by example.

My own mother was the first woman at the copy desk of a major metropolitan newspaper in the 1960’s, the first to receive a maternity leave, a pioneer in telework to be home with me when I was young, and an amazing role model for civic and cultural engagement who thought it was better to bring me along to Chamber of Commerce functions as a youth volunteer than to leave me home with a babysitter. My mother-in-law never falters to be there during the hardest moments to pack, clean, move, care for the sick, or create an amazing family memory with a great meal and family game night. They are very different women but both taught me the value of reliability and putting family first through their example.

2. Leadership is all about teaching, listening and learning.

My mother never got me the latest fad fashions, big ticket “must have” item that all the other kids had, etc. She did, however, never deny me any book or learning experience I showed interest in, regardless of the cost – even selling her beautiful mahogany piano one year so that I would have money for college. She taught me to value education above all, but never told me what to learn. She asked me each day to recount what had happened at school and what I had learned, and never fails to delight when I share something new that she did not know before. My grandmothers loved to show me new things, or tell me about how it was in their “horse and buggy” days in such a way that I could draw my own conclusions about a dilemma in my own life.

Teaching others where to look but not what to see then listening to their insights to keep learning how to better understand the viewpoints and needs of your “followers” and “students” provides a dynamic two-way system of communication and evolution for leadership development on the front and back-end.

3. Great leaders respect and encourage differences of opinion and know how to mediate and find common shared values.

It is fairly universally accepted that a good parent is one who teaches their child how to make their own decisions and supports those decisions once made, regardless of whether they conflict. A happy family is made up of many opposing political, philosophical and lifestyle views where everyone loves and respects each other for their value as a human being and part of the family unit working for the betterment of the next generation. Many a battle may be waged over the Thanksgiving table, but through deliberative foundation building of mutual respect, the family will always reconvene for subsequent dinners, mutually share celebrations and mourn losses.

4. A strong leader is a master of collaborative leadership.

My own childhood involved care and guidance from my mother, grandmother, aunts, cousins, friends’ mothers, and school teachers and mentors. My mother monitored where I was and who I was with to ensure my safety but allowed for the leadership of others to shape me while also providing her the support she needed to for her career and personal fulfillment.

“It takes a village” is a motto of so many mother leaders because they know the power, necessity, and strength in numbers. It takes a village of medical professionals overseen by the parental guiding force to manage the healthcare of a child. It takes a team of teachers, principals, tutors, coaches and mentors coordinated by parental guidance to manage the education of a child. It takes an extended family of relatives, friends, and neighbors guided by parental involvement to manage the neighborhood and community support net required to protect children into adulthood.

5. Love, Empathy and Compassion are Not Optional

I have certainly let my mother down several times, primarily as a teenager I suspect, yet even through gritted teeth and tears, she never failed to tell me she still loved me and she never failed to show up the next day to do it all over again.

In order to be a true leader, one must not only love the cause but deeply care for and respect all of the people working towards it. Being able to see through the debate of the day to the underlying shared humanity and goodness in others is required for proactive leadership. Understanding and compassion for the human frailties and missteps by “followers” is essential to inspire continued work toward goals while taking the responsibility to be a role model seriously. If the leader does not care whether one party is always side-lined while the other is encouraged and supported to shine, no one will. If the leader allows negative people and negative discourse on a regular basis, the organizational (or family) culture will reflect the lack of concern for civility.

For all of the talk online by those criticizing parents who fail to discipline their children or teach them manners, an easy comparison can be drawn to the lack of civility by our elected and government leaders who are also not called on the carpet for rude outbursts, lack of empathy, and dangerous behavior. It is a leader’s responsibility to set the tone, yes. But, it is also a leaders responsibility to reprimand and alter behaviors that are disruptive to the common family goal. As far as government leadership goes, that goal is a prosperous citizenry where everyone has an equal voice, an equal chance, and an equal support system.

Thank you Mom(s) for the bar you set up high for me to reach, the lessons you taught me that prepared me to reach it, and the support you have provided when I fall. You have been the most inspiring and successful leader(s) in my life and your guidance has allowed me to grow and prosper into the strong mother leader I am for my own children today – and you continue to provide that leadership for the next generation at the senior executive level, as a Grand Mother.


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