Being a mother and being a leader are pretty much the same thing.
As Mother’s Day approaches, it occurs to me that all the essential skills – including every last ounce of internal fortitude – required for being a mum is also needed in leadership roles, which I suppose is why mothers make such great leaders at work. Let me explain…
Have you ever noticed that at every moment of every day, mothers set and maintain standards, make tough decisions about what’s next for the family (and then perform minor miracles of influencing and persuasion to get everybody in agreement), and grow ‘people’ into more capable contributors who know how to operate in a caring and respectful way with others?
Funnily enough, these are exactly the skills I coach leaders to develop in business. There are three key ways in which being a mum is like being a leader:
- Mums and leaders ALWAYS make the role about serving others, rather than just helping themselves;
- Just like leaders, mums are always switched ‘on’ – have you noticed that you can’t simply switch motherhood (or leadership) off?
- Mothers and leaders grow people – with mentorship, nurturing care and ever-present guidance.
Mums and leaders serve others
To do this mum gig effectively, mothers are continually prioritising their decisions and contributions for others, which is a helpful leadership state in the workplace, too. When I’m coaching leaders, many start out suffering from a ‘woe is me’ leadership state where they make everything about their goals, their overwhelm, their frustration and their needs. Interestingly, liberation and relief from this way of thinking comes when we ask one simple question, which is: ‘Given the situation, how can I best serve my team?’.
It occurs to me that mothers serve their families day in and day out – sometimes to their own detriment – for example, when they sacrifice an hour of much needed sleeping-in to drive their kids to swimming training at 5am, or after a long week at work they give up their weekend to cheer on their kids at sport, or when they quietly cancel plans for that holiday or new outfit so they can send their child away on school camp.
The interesting thing here is that serving others rather than ourselves – in both motherhood and leadership – is the sure-fire recipe for joy and fulfilment. Ask any mum!
Mums and leaders are always ‘on’!
It also strikes me that for mums, like leaders, there really is no ‘off’ switch. I’m reliably informed that ‘we can’t put the baby back in’ and stop being a mum, just because we’re tired or feeling overwhelmed – just like we can’t stop being a leader when times get tough in business, or when we’re feeling a little tired.
Every day, I coach leaders on how to be more effective in serving their teams. Sometimes I’m asked: ‘When can I just go back to being myself at work, like I was before I was the leader of this company?’ Just like being a mum, you can’t switch leadership off and expect your people not to notice, and it also becomes difficult to maintain consistent standards that you’re not prepared to commit to yourself.
Mums and leaders grow people
One does it with vegemite sandwiches and ensuring homework is done, the other does it by making sure people have the capabilities and tools they need to achieve something great at work. Both mums and leaders set their people up for success, preparing them with care, ongoing guidance and support so that they can fulfil their potential.
Just like it’s the responsibility of mums to grow great little people, it’s the responsibility of leaders to grow great teams. And that’s a role that never goes away.
Happy Mothers’ Day to all the mums leading families and businesses.