7 Leadership Lessons You Can Learn From Working Mothers
“The One Thing” is a series where I ask today’s successful leaders to identify the single most important lesson they’ve learned on a topic.
Every second Sunday in May we pay tribute to mothers everywhere and the invaluable contributions they’ve made to our lives, often having done so while balancing the demands of career and family. From efficiency to persuasiveness to delegation, many of the traits that great mothers cultivate and practice every day are being leveraged at home and at work to lead teams and run successful businesses. In this spirit, I asked seven power women to weigh in with the most important lesson they’ve learned about leadership since becoming a mother.
“What’s ‘the one thing’ that motherhood has taught you about being a better leader?”
1. Know When To Push And When To Let Go
Motherhood has taught me when to keep pushing and when to let go. So much of parenting is wrestling with the dichotomy of when to push your child and when to let go and let them drive the direction; thereby enabling the condition that they might fall or fail. My two boys (ages 9 and almost 6) are highly social, sporty and love school, but they also think they are wiser than they could possibly be at this point in their lives. They don’t know what they don’t know yet. My goal is to enable them to be independent, do what they love and make meaningful connections with other people. I feel it is my job to push them go to hockey practice even when they don’t want to wake up at 6:00 am to get there. But it is also my job to let them pack their own backpack even if that means they might forget their homework some days. As they grow, striking that balance gets harder. I think it’s the same with my employees and teams at OpenTable. I want my teams thinking independently and aggressively pursuing goals. They should have enough rope to explore their own ideas and develop their own hypotheses. But it’s also important to step in and course correct. Striking that balance is what defines effective leadership.
-Christa Quarles is the CEO of Open Table and the other of two sons.
2. Roll With The Punches
I went in to motherhood assuming that it was going to make my work life so much more stressful because it was adding a whole new set of responsibilities to my plate, but it actually has had the opposite effect for me in that it forced me to relax a little bit and realize that I don’t have to have a plan for everything. You quickly find when you have babies that you can’t control their moods and their needs in the way you can your own workload – so you have to get used to just rolling with the unexpected. And that is a great lesson for leadership – having the flexibility to bob and weave as circumstances around you change, and giving up the illusion that you have control over all of your outcomes.
-Sarah Robb O’Hagan is the CEO of Flywheel Sports and the mother of two.
3. A Personalized Approach Is Key
My children are two parts amazing, one part insane, and a whole lot of nothing alike. If I don’t adjust to their unique personalities and spend quality time with each of them, we have total chaos at home. The good news for my team at Pandora is I have made a thousand mistakes at home and I use those lessons to bring my best self to work. A personalized leadership approach requires a significant time investment with each individual. I have learned that the work I see in the end tells me very little about what I could have done to help along the way. The secret is observing the process it takes to get there and understanding that everyone has different strengths, passions and motivations. The interesting thing about putting the extra time in with your team is they appreciate you for the investment and in turn your relationship grows and leads to more open and honest conversations. Those conversations are the most rewarding part of my day. Well… until I get home to my crazy kids.
-Lizzie Widhelm is the SVP of Ad Product Strategy at Pandora and the mother of three sons.
4. Embrace Unknown Territory
Motherhood has taught me not to fear the unknown but instead embrace the journey of learning on the go! Enjoy the fulfilling feeling of “figuring it out” and use that energy and motivation to tackle the next challenge! For me, being a new mother and a new entrepreneur at the same time was all unknown territory. But as I began to meet and exceed one milestone at a time, that momentum and empowerment continued to build. There have been so many amazing and fulfilling accomplishments, from seeing my baby take her first steps to seeing LIVELY make its first shipment! I often reflect upon those moments as I tackle my next great challenge. The big takeaway for me is to use moments of accomplishment, big or small, as fuel to have the courage to go after it all – the sky’s the limit!
-Michelle Cordeiro Grant is the Founder and CEO, Lively and the mother of a son and daughter.