Oswald Letter

8 essential lessons I learned from my mom

Happy mother and daughterby Dan Oswald

A couple of days ago we celebrated Mother’s Day, and while one day each year clearly isn’t enough to honor our mothers, it does provide us with the opportunity to thank the women in our lives for everything they have done to love and support us.

A number of years ago, I gave a speech titled “Everything I Need to Know About Management I Learned From My Mother.” And while I gave my stay-at-home mom the credit for the lessons she taught me, I think every mother can teach us a lot about how to succeed in business. Those pearls of wisdom they share, many of them just plain old common sense, provide a great blueprint for success in any endeavor.

I thought this Mother’s Day tribute was a great opportunity to dust off my list of lessons I learned from my mother that have helped me every day in my more than 25 years in business. Here are eight of the lessons I learned from Mom.

Honesty is the best policy. There were times growing up when it would have been easier to talk my way out of a situation with something less than the truth—and there were plenty of times when I took that path—but often my mom was there to remind me that being honest and facing the consequences were a much better answer, if for no other reason than telling the truth was the right thing to do and therefore allowed me to go to sleep at night knowing I had done the right thing.

Treat others with kindness. My mom, maybe like yours, wore her heart on her sleeve and always went out of her way to treat others with kindness and respect. Oftentimes, managers think they need to be tough or that kindness equates to weakness, but I’m a big believer in servant leadership. Leaders need to be prepared to put others before themselves. That’s a lesson many of us learned watching our mothers take care of everyone else before they did the first thing for themselves.

Be prepared. Yes, I know it’s the Boy Scouts motto, but it was also something that my mother obviously knew and believed in. My mom was continually planning ahead and thinking about contingency plans. As a kid, I thought she tended to worry too much, but looking back, I can see she wanted to be prepared when things didn’t go as planned. A good manager needs to think about the various problems that might arise and be prepared to respond quickly when they do. You need to know what to do when things don’t go as planned because things NEVER go exactly as planned.

Patience is a virtue. Every mother is different. I’m sure some of you had a fiery mom to keep you in line. My mom was pretty soft-spoken and had the patience of a saint. She had to put up with me! My brother and I tested that patience on a daily basis, and my mom was virtually unflappable. Patience isn’t my strong suit. I wish I had inherited that gene from her or had learned the lesson that she taught by example every day. I didn’t. For a manager, patience is a virtue. Whenever you’re dealing with people, you need to understand when to be patient. Whether you’re trying to teach them or lead them, you need to slow down and fully understand the people you work with. Patience is definitely a virtue.

Teach by example. It’s probably pretty obvious by now that my mom provided an excellent example for me and my siblings. While she was soft-spoken, her actions spoke volumes not only about who she was but also about what was expected of us. It’s the same with any leader. What you do says a lot more about who you are and what you value than what you say. The more visible you become in an organization, the more people watch to see how you behave. They’re looking for cues as to what is important, and they mimic leadership. Make sure you act in a way you want others to emulate.

Respect others. This is a lesson they must teach at Mom University because I think all mothers try to ensure that their kids treat others with respect. The question is how well we learn that lesson. My mom always taught me that respect is a two-way street—you need to give it in order to get it. Too many times managers don’t understand this. They believe respect comes from a title or a certain level on the organizational chart. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t. Respect is earned not with a promotion but by treating others with respect.

Associate with good people. My mom taught me that you are judged by the company you keep. Yes, I realize she didn’t come up with the concept, but she certainly conveyed it to me. I can say that I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really good people over the years. Notice I didn’t say talented—I said good. It’s not that I haven’t and don’t work with some extremely talented people, but it’s equally important that these talented people have high standards for behavior. When things have gone wrong for me in business, the first thing I do is consider with whom I’m associating. Often I don’t need to look any further.

Praise matters. Who’s better than mom at giving a pat on the back? She’s always there to let us know when we do well. And even when we don’t, she seems to be able to find the positive in a bad situation and leave us feeling just a little bit better. People need to hear when they’re doing a great job. It’s an important part of being a manager. I learned early on from my mom the power of praise and even the importance of finding something positive in an otherwise bad situation. As a manager, you need to take a page from your mom’s playbook and share some praise.

Yes, every management lesson I’ve learned in my quarter century in business I had already learned from my mother. If only I had listened to her better—I’m sure she’d say the same thing! Thanks, Mom.