“I feel my brain cells slowly dying every day.”
The mom who recently made that statement is clearly drowning in the frenzied white water of parenting. Although swimming in a sea of diapers, laundry, scattered toys and sibling squabbles may not feel very mentally stimulating to most of us, don’t despair. By being purposeful and mindful, you can learn significant ways to thrive in the midst of the chaos and hone important skills that make you more effective, more successful—and more joyful—both at home and at work.
Let me tell you how.
Motherhood is a powerful training ground for leadership skills. The good news is that every day at home with your kids you are given multiple opportunities to practice being a better leader—IF you notice these opportunities and train yourself to take advantage of them. At home you’re in an environment where you won’t get fired if you screw up. And you get instant results because you can immediately see how well your strategies work with your kids by how they respond to you. Parenting is, arguably, like getting an alternate MBA. So instead of merely slogging through each day putting out fires, squashing conflicts and completing menial jobs until exhaustion overtakes you, open your mind to a higher goal. At home you are the CEO of a small business, and the lessons you learn there not only make you smarter, but they also transfer to your office, making you a more valuable manager at work.
Let’s take just three of the important leadership skills you can strengthen with your kids that will make you a better mom at home and a better manager in your workplace.
A work environment where people trust each other is essential for people to do their best and most creative work. Otherwise employees are reluctant to offer their greatest ideas or to do more than they’re asked, for fear of making a mistake and being judged. Mindful moms can strengthen their skill of trust building at home.
Create a safe haven for your kids to share their problems and their fears, and then treat their feelings with sensitivity, compassion and respect. Make it easy for your kids to tell you the truth, knowing that it takes great courage to fess up. These are basic guidelines for developing a positive relationship with people in any environment.
Here’s an example. Let’s say your six-year-old sneaks a forbidden cookie from the jar. Rather than accusing him of a misbehavior or theft, let him know up front that you saw him take it, but that you understand how tempting it must have been. You can teach him to tell the truth by taking away his chance to lie about it. It’s okay to impose a consequence, but focus on how much you value and appreciate his honesty. Everyone benefits because you develop a fair, genuine, honest environment at home, and you feel more confident to apply the same principles at work.
Next: Two more ways to build leadership at home
The best workplaces are those where there is open communication and where information flows freely. When people feel heard and valued for their ideas, production goes up and the bottom line gets bigger. Mindful moms can use the trenches of motherhood to strengthen their communications skills with their kids and be better prepared to use them at the office as well.
Remember to listen more than you talk. You already know what YOU think. The idea is to learn what YOUR CHILD thinks. Don’t pre-judge a situation and don’t draw conclusions or give advice until you’ve asked a lot of questions, explored the situation from every angle and believe you fully understand the perspective of your child. Only then will your child respect and accept what you have to say.
I can illustrate by telling you a story of my own. One night about midnight some years ago, my teenage daughter called me from a friend’s house to ask if she could spend the night. I asked, I probed, I listened, and what I learned was that she was the only girl there—along with five other guys. I had to bite my tongue to prevent myself from blurting out how ridiculous her request was, but instead, we went back and forth respectfully until she felt heard. When I finally said, “I’m sorry, but the answer is no,” she complied and was home in ten minutes. That night we proved to each other that we could talk about differences without agreeing and even build our bond of relationship in the process. And I learned that listening to and respecting someone else’s point of view is a skill that works as well outside the home as within it.
2. Empowering others
One of the most important qualities of a good leader is to see potential in her employees or team members. A successful career woman told me once that she often says, “Gee, this person has strengths in a particular area and she doesn’t even know it. Maybe if I push her a little, she’ll see it and grow into it.” Mindful moms can maximize their natural skill of empowering on the home front by encouraging their kids to think for themselves and work independently and by inspiring them to be their best.
Helicopter parents hover over their kids, controlling them to make sure they don’t fail or make mistakes. The message to kids is that their parents don’t trust them to make wise choices, to take care of themselves or to be responsible. And kids respond by living out those parental expectations. But if parents are purposeful in noticing and affirming the talents, skills and positive traits in their kids, it motivates them to reach for the stars.
Here are some tips for letting go of your kids in age appropriate ways that make them feel empowered and build their self-esteem. When they’re very young, give them two choices, both of which would be okay. Would they like to go to the pool or the park? Before their nap, would they like to color or read a book? When they get slightly older, let them choose what clothes they will wear or which vegetable they want for dinner. As pre-teens, allow them to decorate their rooms—within reason. And as teenagers, talk with them about all the issues and then let them make their own decisions whenever possible. Will they get into trouble and make stupid mistakes? Sure. All kids do. But the idea is to discuss the goal and then let them find their own way to get there. This is a skill that good leaders use every day.
When working moms enhance their skills at home, they’re also more effective at work. So when moms leave work to have a baby, they need to proudly assert, “I’m going to take time to advance my leadership skills and come back better than I was before.” And when they return, they can confidently list the leadership skills they’ve learned and have been practicing on their children. For example, I’ve been parenting for five years and I’ve intentionally used my time at home to be pro-active. The experience has sharpened, not dulled my leadership skills, which are both powerful and valuable. Here’s what they are: I am an expert in multi-tasking—I know when to juggle and when to focus; I’ve learned to prioritize so that I know how to separate the urgent from the important; I’ve gained expertise in decision-making that works for everyone involved in that decision. I am very good at treating people with respect and dignity and to motivate and empower them to do more than they believe they can do. I am able to deal with conflict and to help people settle their own differences when possible. I’m a good listener and appreciate the value of open communication where people feel safe to share sensitive information. I’m a doer, and at the end of the day, I accomplish what needed to be done. I engender trust; I am very good at dealing with chaos and at going with the flow when plans change; and I’ve created a mission statement and goals for a group of people to move into the future in harmony and cooperation.
Think how different this sounds than the old fashioned statement we’ve heard so often, “I’m just a mom.”
It’s time for working moms to feel proud of our accomplishments. Parenting is not a gap in our resumes. It’s the most effective training we could get in leadership skills.