A Wharton Mom’s Lessons in Leadership

I have taken the courses, read the books, played the roles, but I have learned the most about being a leader from my on-the-job training as a mom to my four kids. 

Thus, my four leadership lessons from motherhood:

1.  You can’t please everyone.

As a mom, I have learned to rid myself of the notion that it is my job to make people happy. In fact, sometimes it is exactly the opposite. Parenting is a constant balance between short-term peace and long-term problems.  For example, my son would happily spend all day watching TV. While the hours of quiet that would come of it are often tempting, it’s up to me to keep the bigger picture in mind and impose restrictions on TV viewing.

2.  No micromanaging.

As a leader, I set the structure to get desired results and then step aside. My primary goal as a mom is to instill values in my children that foster responsibility, independence and social engagement. To that end, my husband and I try to create opportunities that push our kids to step up and take charge. For example, our kids do their own laundry, make their own lunches, and pack and carry their own bags.  Please note, taking responsibility does not always happen without complaining, but see lesson number one.

3.  Mistakes happen—learn from them.

There are consequences to heavy delegation. In our house that might mean pink clothes from mixing colors and whites in the wash, weekends away with only one pair of underwear, and lunches that don’t quite pass nutritional standards. These are learning moments. Sometimes, we need to adjust when things aren’t working. Writing packing check-lists and explaining about food groups has been helpful, but so is experience; once the kids shrink their favorite shirts or forget their homework on the kitchen table, they pretty much don’t do it again. Being a leader is setting your vision for how you want things to be, letting your people run with it, but also stepping in and realigning priorities when reality sets in.

4.  Try to find the win-win.

Here is where listening and the art of negotiation come in to play.  How much my kids have this ingrained in them was brought home when my then sixth-grade daughter wanted a cellphone. After months of our pushing back, she finally came to us with a fine-tuned proposal.

“This is why I think my having a cell phone will be better for everyone,” she said.

Her points made sense.  She pre-emptively laid out guidelines for phone use, and she figured out how to pay for it. She got her phone, and our lives did become a lot easier.

I’m still learning every day how to be a leader, but whenever I confront a new challenge, putting on my “mom hat” almost always helps.

  • duchess

    I, too, was a single mom to two boys. Because I could not do it all, my sons learned early on to be self-sufficient by doing their laundry, helping with meal preparation, ironing shirts, sewing on buttons, and having part-time jobs to afford their luxuries. Today, they are independent husbands, fathers, and entreprenuers who are teaching their children some of the same things. I am so proud of them! Teaching the baby bird to fly isn’t easy but when he gets his wings, what joy! Great article. When parents do too much for their children, the children never learn to be independent thinkers and doers.

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