Can the core skills employed by mothers enhance your business acumen?

I’ve been thinking about the juggling act required of a single, working mother and how the necessity to wear multiple hats has enhanced my leadership skills.  In short, being a Mom has made me a better leader.  Motherhood, in concert with my education and experience, augment my leadership dexterity and has prepared me for the boardroom.

There’s ample discussion these days regarding board diversity and the need for more women in leadership roles.  I agree and would take it a step further to suggest that we need more mothers in leadership roles and on board of directors.  Not every mother is suited for leadership, nor is every leader equipped to be a mother; however, when the two skillsets overlap, motherhood applied to leadership can deliver a competitive advantage.  Many of the savviest leaders I know, share the title of Mom.

Balancing the demands of career and family is a challenge that is not for the faint of heart.  Often, it calls for merciless multitasking, artful prioritizing and justified juggling.  But how can these skills be leveraged in the workplace? Do skills such as the ability to stay calm under pressure, demonstrate agility or focus on nurturing individuality, skills required of a mother, expand leadership astuteness?  I believe the challenges and triumphs of motherhood can be leveraged in the business world.  There are obvious parallels to draw between motherhood and leadership – from negotiation to the need to perform at the highest level under extreme pressure or establish policies that govern the direction and integrity of the household.  These mindsets are invaluable in a corporate setting.  Leadership and mothering are about getting people to understand and believe in your vision and to work with you to achieve your goals.

Embrace Ambition

When you have multiple passions, a perfect balance is an impracticable ideal.  Instead, I focus on knowing what hat to put on and then enjoying the challenge.

Disruption is a popular buzzword these days.  It is synonymous with innovation and transformation.   Disruption has always been one of my life themes.  I have never been afraid of a challenge; from an early age, I embraced ambition.  I was not satisfied with the status quo.  I asked “what if?” and “why not?” – challenging conventional wisdom to make things better.   As a woman in a male-dominated field, I learned early on that individuality matters and that there is not a single approach to achieving success.  I am a results-oriented executive.  For more than two decades, I have been at the forefront of executing strategy in the oil and gas industry.  For a little over a decade, I have been a mother.  Both roles are demanding, challenging and enormously fulfilling and I am 100% “all-in” on each of them.

Eli & Suzanne

The author Suzanne & her son Eli

By the time I thought of becoming a mother I was 40.  Then and there, motherhood became an exclusive club, to which I earnestly wanted to belong.  I was determined to become a member – by any means necessary.  I was not concerned with convention; my singular focus was how it to make it work.  I decided to adopt and my dream came true.  I became the mother of a perfect, beautiful boy.  From the second I met him, I knew how special he was.  Eli is brave, loving, curious, intelligent, determined and independent; innate traits I admire.  The icing on the cake is his sharp sense of humor. To me, he is perfection.

Write your own playbook

When I became a parent, there was no guidebook for “balancing” motherhood and a leadership role.  However, I benefited from an example.  My mother, upon my parent’s divorce, returned to college completed her undergraduate degree, then pursued an advanced degree.  She became the Art Director for Walt Disney – all while parenting two children.  The good news is, there is there is no “right” way to balance.  The best way for each mother/leader is intensely personal and requires an agreement between the company and the leader.  I was fortunate to have a business partner that ensured I had support from my company and our leadership team.   This was a pivotal differentiation.  According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Females CEO’s say they don’t expect much help, at work or home.  These women who have already made it to the top say, “the only person who will get you there is yourself.”

Effective management is administrative in nature and requires execution – the ability to take a strategic vision and break it down into a roadmap to be followed by the team; resource allocation – the ability to direct day-to-day work efforts, review resources needed and anticipate needs along the way, and process management – the ability establish work rules, processes, standards, and operating procedures.  These skills can be strengthened through training, education, and experience.  Compelling mature, trust-based leadership requires higher-level communication skills like conflict resolution, negotiation, argumentation, and persuasive communication.  Skills employed daily by mothers.  The leadership advisory firm Egon Zehnder learned from a survey  of 402 CEOs from 11 countries—executives who together run companies with  $2.6 trillion in sales study found that 60% of CEOs admit they weren’t fully prepared for the job.

68% of CEOs Admit They Weren’t Fully Prepared for the Job

The CEOs, in an anonymous survey, said that while they did feel ready for the strategic and business aspects of their roles, they felt much less prepared for the personal and interpersonal components of leadership, which are just as critical to success.  Challenges change and thinking evolves, but an effective leader needs to have a vision and translate that vision into a construct that causes the team to follow.  This is achieved through emotional intelligence, focusing on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence.  Leaders transform vision into something superb that leads the team to the finish line.

Once I became a Mother, I acquired and applied life lessons and competencies I learned as a mother to my leadership style.  These lessons are ones that may have otherwise eluded me.  Among these are agility and knowing when to pivot, compartmentalization a focused direction of energy, efficiency, adaptive leadership, and patience.

The Multi-Hat Challenge; One Head + Multiple Hats

When I divorced, I took on the sole responsibility for our family.  Leadership skill:  Know when to pivot.

As the leader of our family, I implemented the infrastructure to support our family and mitigate risk.  Strong infrastructure, supported with solid process frees a leader to focus on innovation, risk mitigation, and agility.  If the leader is bogged down with infrastructure issues, they panic or dig in instead of pivoting. The ability to think clearly and quickly and assimilate varying viewpoints and data is a key mindset of a good leader.

To navigate the multi-hat challenge, I specialized in compartmentalization.   Leadership skill:  Intentionality of energy/compartmentalization.

As a leader or a single mother, strong demands are placed on your time.  To navigate the multi-hat challenge, I specialize in compartmentalization.  At work or at home, I’m singularly focused on the tasks that require my attention the most.   Time management is a predicament many leaders face.  Leadership requires the ability to do many things well.  It also requires an assessment of priorities.  Leaders must focus their strengths and direct their energy to tasks that give the organization the greatest return.

You can’t be a leader if no one is willing to follow you.  Leaders must put individuals and interactions above processes and tools.      Leadership skill:  Individuation 

My son has taught me that no two people are the same.  As the parent, I am charged with helping to develop my son’s self-esteem by encouraging healthy expressions of individuality.   Emotional intelligence enhances leadership.   It is important that leaders cultivate each working relationship on its own terms and act accordingly.  This facilitates strong relationships.  Each person on a team has individual strengths, values, and passions.  A leader needs to consciously step out of their own perspective to see things from someone else’s view so that unique contributions are maximized.  The more a leader is able to encourage individuation, the more powerful they become.

It is important for leaders to adopt a growth mindset so that there is a culture of continuous improvement.   Successful businesses act not react and they prepare their teams for a gradual but meaningful process of change.  Leadership skill:  Adaptive Leadership

Change is a reality of life.  As a mother, my job is to help my son prepare for, adapt to and thrive in challenging, changing environments.   New opportunities are something that leaders create, not something they encounter by chance. Leaders must be informed, ahead of the curves and cutting edge in thought leadership.  Adaptive leadership, just like adaptive parenting is a framework that helps children or organizations adapt and thrive in challenging environments.

Being an effective leader or parent takes vision, communication, agility, and initiative.  Obstacles will come and it is necessary to find a way to overcome them without fear.  Motherhood has refined and improved my leadership style.  Equally important, my career benefits my son.  Research shows that women whose moms worked outside the home are more likely to have jobs themselves, are more likely to hold supervisory responsibility at those jobs, and earn higher wages than women whose mothers stayed home full time, according to a new study. Men raised by working mothers are more likely to contribute to household chores and spend more time caring for family members.



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