Why Motherhood Could Be The Perfect Training Ground for Business Leadership
The eight essential roles that connect two apparently disparate worlds
For mothers, elbow deep in sterilizing fluid or going demented in front of endless repeats of Peppa Pig, business leadership may seem to exist in a different universe. At a time when we are typically at our least glamourous, if someone told us mothers that we had something valuable to offer in the boardroom, chances are we would shake our heads in bemused disbelief.
However, over time I’ve come to acknowledge that the rigours of motherhood can lay the foundations for exceptional leadership.
I started researching leadership when my only daughter was 7 years old. For most of the first few years of her life, grappling with sleep deprivation, a sense of isolation and low self-esteem, I felt like I had nothing more to give. By the time she was 3, I was managing around 6 hours of employment a week teaching classes in a leisure centre with a crèche. Frazzled, frustrated and intellectually inept, it was unimaginable that I could cope with any other demands on my time and energy. I wondered how on earth it was possible for other mothers to get into work and function effectively in a professional environment.
It was an unconventional turn of events that took me from my leisure centre classes, to teaching night classes at a local university and then into corporate life. There had been no job advert, no assigned role to fulfil and no formal interview but, with a new position in Learning & Development, my first task was to help create a new leadership development model.
It has only been from working in this field that I can now recognise the parallels between these two apparently disparate worlds.
Now, before you go all politically correct on me, I’m fully aware of the gender-neutral demands of the current business world, so I want to make it clear that a lot of what I describe is essentially about the value of feminine energy. And, you don’t have to be female or a mother to access this. It’s just that it usually comes easier when you’ve been in the trenches with it.
Business strategy and skills can be consciously taught, but it’s hard to rewire at the unconscious level. There’s nothing like years and years of being immersed in something, to embed certain patterns of thinking and behaviour into the neurology so they become our default setting. When a huge percentage of our behaviour is generated unconsciously (especially in times of stress), once you have lived and breathed feminine energy, there is more chance it will become intrinsic to who you are rather than something you have to consciously choose.
There’s no question that both motherhood and business leadership are highly complex roles to fulfil. The main difference is that often mothers are taken for granted, not treated particularly well and are largely undervalued whereas business leaders are typically held in high esteem and rewarded with a big salary. (Ouch — yes I know I’m still holding a bit of an ‘it’s not fair’ judgement on that).
From a mix of my own personal experience, opinions gathered from others and the knowledge of psychology, I’ve apportioned the best of motherhood into 8 core roles. Mums and Dads alike will learn, with experience, to operate in these roles, some more successfully than others. I’m sure you’ll be able to recognise where your own innate flair lies.
THE 8 ESSENTIAL ROLES OF MOTHERHOOD
SOOTHER: The Soother can be relied on for calm and reassurance. Endlessly patient and tolerant, she never tires of listening to and holding those who are in pain. It is not easy for the Soother to witness her children struggling but she trusts that things will get better, however long it takes.
ANGEL: Unconditional Love is the Angel’s essence. She has an infinite supply of care and support. When the Angel is around, there is no judgment or blame, only understanding, compassion and forgiveness.
JUGGLER: The Juggler is run ragged but has developed incredible skills of flexibility, versatility and ingenuity. She is a creative problem solver and is particularly adept at turning common household items into multi-functional solutions to every problem.
CONNECTOR: The Connector maintains mutually supportive relationships, even though it takes time and energy which is sometimes hard to find. She knows that other people are a critical life-line. The Connector does her best to give as much as she takes from her tribe.
MEDIATOR: The Mediator keeps the peace. Harmony and fairness are her top priorities. She is brilliant at bargaining and knows exactly how to make an effective compromise. She also has the ability to see others’ perspectives and keep the score.
ROCK: The Rock is the safe anchor and a voice of consistency. She has clear values and principles that are immovable. It is from this standpoint that clear boundaries are established and maintained.
LIONESS: The Lioness is ever watchful, knowing what to fight for and what to let go. She is ready to pounce at a moment’s notice, ever prepared to get her teeth into something gritty. When fighting a cause, she is tenacious for as long as it takes until her offspring are back in a place of safety.
PSYCHIC: The Psychic is deeply intuitive. She trusts her gut in knowing when something is really wrong. She has the ability to read minds and her children may sometimes quizzically ask “How the heck did you know that?”
I bet your nodding knowingly at the last one!
I’d also hazard a guess that you are already making the connections with business leadership. It’s pretty obvious to see how these aspects of feminine energy could translate into the corporate arena and how they would act as a great balancer alongside the more traditional masculine approach.
As I describe these roles, this time in a different context, I’m using the feminine pronouns again though (as you would rightly expect) these are equally applicable to anyone of any gender fulfilling these roles.
THE 8 EQUIVALENT ROLES OF LEADERSHIP
SOOTHER: In business, the Soother’s core role is to allay fear in a way that is credible. She has real empathy for people’s experience and an ability to say and/or do just the right thing to enhance confidence and put people at ease.
ANGEL: In business, the Angel demonstrates genuine caring for others and creates a supportive environment for people to flourish in. There is no blame, only encouragement for people to give things a go, to learn from their mistakes and share that learning with others.
JUGGLER: The business Juggler is astute in knowing how to keep just enough attention on the multiple strands of a challenging role. She knows how to prioritise and how to delegate effectively. She has an impressive strategy for managing her portfolio of commitments without letting anyone down.
LIONESS: The Lioness is constantly ‘on the prowl’ in the business world, observing her environment carefully. She has the ability to be stealthy, merging into the background until her presence is required. She then wastes no time in coming forward, to make her presence felt and to fight for the benefit of her company.
CONNECTOR: The business Connector invests time building valued relationships. These relationships are not the ones borne out of necessity, but the ones that are truly dependable. In all environments, the Connector finds time to demonstrate that her ‘significant others’ are genuinely appreciated.
MEDIATOR: With the ability to see all sides, the business Mediator is unbiased and has the ability to suspend judgment. She listens acutely and asks insightful questions to gain deeper understanding. She does not feel she has fulfilled her role fully unless there is a mutually acceptable outcome.
ROCK: The Rock in leadership is highly dependable and reliable, and upholds the company’s values with unfaltering integrity. She is also grounded in her own personal principles and demonstrates these congruently. Her consistency engenders a strong sense of trust.
PSYCHIC: The business Psychic trusts her instinct. Even when the facts may suggest something different, she can discern a dissenting inner voice revealing another source of truth. She has an uncanny ability to balance her intuitive wisdom with astute business savvy.
Isn’t it remarkable how similar these are? I make no apology for the apparent repetition; that’s the point! The core traits of motherhood could’ve come straight out of a leadership textbook.
I guess one of my main aims in writing this is to reassure any mothers out there, who are in the ‘frazzled, frustrated and under-valued’ camp, that you are developing an extraordinary array of transferrable skills. As well as the huge sense of satisfaction of seeing your children thrive (which will come eventually), you may just be laying the foundations for being an extraordinary leader. The world needs you!
In conclusion, there is no question that managing these 8 roles (and often more on top) can be extremely challenging in any environment and, as an amendment to Billy Ocean’s famous song, when the going gets tough, the tough eventually get exhausted.
When mothers and leaders alike put on their super-hero capes every morning and attend to others before themselves, it will eventually leave them with nothing left. So, perhaps the wisest use of this wonderfully nourishing feminine energy is to apply it to ourselves first.