What We Can Learn from Moms about Leadership

Mother’s Day may have come and gone for another year, but there are still things we can learn from dear ol’ Mom! In today’s Advisor, we get 5 leadership lessons from our maternal parent.

“It’s a great time to be a woman. Over the past few decades, the leadership torch has passed from one gender to the other. Not that men are irrelevant in business—far from it! It’s just that women’s ‘feminine skills,’ those inherent qualities that make the fairer sex such great nurturers, connectors, and collaborators, are being recognized,” says Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, in a press release.
O’Reilly, who in collaboration with 19 other female leaders wrote Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life (Adams Media, 2015), says in doing research for and editing the book, she realized that “All moms are leading women. Whether a mother works outside the home or not, nowhere are her leadership skills more apparent than when she parents her children.”
Lois P. Frankel, PhD, who is one of O’Reilly’s coauthors, says that you are a leader if you have ever convinced anyone to follow you. Mothers definitely fall into that category!
Here are just a few leadership skills women naturally possess—and how they manifest in both business and in the business of mothering:

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1. Mothers are flexible enough to do what works. Whether you’re moving forward with a new business plan, leading a team charged with fixing a faulty process, or pitching a new idea to a client, you’ll surely run into roadblocks and opposition. Women are great at navigating these situations because, instead of digging in their heels and holding fast, they stay open to other options. They’re great at coming up with solutions that benefit everyone. And according to O’Reilly, many women learn this skill in the trenches of motherhood.
2. Mothers are giving, nurturing, and empathetic (and yes, these are leadership skills). These “soft skills” are actually quite formidable and difficult to learn. After all, points out coauthor Birute Regine, EdD, no one ever succeeded in mastering relational intelligence during a 2-hour seminar! The innate ability to nurture relationships makes women amazing leaders in the workplace. They can have a huge impact on company culture and morale (and thus productivity and growth).
“Soft skills fuel performance because they speak to the acknowledgment and validation people crave, deep down,” she adds. “This is true whether they’re five or 55—and whether the setting is the home or the workplace.”
3. Mothers make meaningful connections (beyond mere networking). In business, traditional business-card-exchange networking rarely pays off in a meaningful way. Often, that’s because participants go into each interaction wondering, “What can this person do for me?” Instead, connections that result in success happen when we ask, “What can we accomplish together?”
“Women know that connection and collaboration, not competition, are best for everyone,” says O’Reilly. “Reciprocity and the genuine desire to help are at the heart of these connections.”
4. Mothers know how to facilitate collaboration. Successful collaboration is a valuable business (and life) skill, and as anyone who’s ever done it knows, it involves a lot more than just putting a group of people in a room and asking them to work together. To achieve positive results, points out Regine, leaders must accurately read nonverbal cues and others’ emotions, use empathy, and be sensitive to fairness and turn-taking.

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O’Reilly says moms are “experts at making sure everyone does their part while feeling heard, valued, and loved. In fact, it’s around the proverbial dinner table that we all learn to first speak up for ourselves and debate issues that are important to us.”
5. Mothers don’t mind asking for help. For the most part, women are not diehard individualists. That’s because they value the greater good—of their team, department, employees, or family—more than their own egos. And on an instinctive level, they understand that utilizing the resources and expertise of others is often the most efficient and effective way to get things done—at the office and at home. “Women don’t feel diminished as individuals when we enlist the aid of others,” O’Reilly notes, “but quite the opposite!”
“By seeing mothers as leaders whose parenting experience can translate profitably into the professional realm, all of us—moms, families, and organizations—stand to gain tremendously,” O’Reilly says.

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