Why mothers make good leaders

We can only ever be ourselves, writes Jane McCarroll.  And, at some point, that has to be good enough.

Recently I had the pleasure of catching up with Denise Marsh, author and IMNZ Alumni. Denise talks about her experience of coming back to work after having a baby and has some valuable tips and insights for both employers and new working mums.

It got me thinking about what makes mums great leaders, and what I aspire to instill in my kids to make them good humans. I’m not suggesting for one minute dads don’t make great leaders too. They do. I am reflecting on my role as a mother, and my observance of other mums.

Here are some of the reasons why I think mums make great leaders and, as for my kids the five key values I’m raising them by.

  • Mums are phenomenal at working through white noise: Washing; lunches; more washing; cooking; hair-ties; book bags; white slips; missing shoes; cleaning and feeding and ‘please put your shoes on for the (insert number of times asked) time’; and driving; and dropping off; picking up working through logistics for gym; ballet; rugby; more washing and holy Santa Clause I’m tired. And it’s 9 a.m. Mums do it. Every day.
  • Mums are collaborative: Raising independent, unique individuals can come with its fair share of stakeholder engagement. I’ve found mums to be ace team members and collaborative leaders.
  • Mums have a United Nations approach at managing conflict: If you’ve ever tried reasoning with a four-year-old who wants a cupcake/and or puppy at 5 p.m. then you already know what I mean.
  • Mums make great managers: Mums are constantly teaching their children, so are well suited to mentor junior members of the team.
  • Mums find calm in the chaos: When children are little, they can sometimes* misbehave. When they do, one way of encouraging our children to find calm is to have them pause and reflect – it’s a tool used in schools and is an equally effective strategy to deploy at work too. A higher level of thinking can come from a calmer mind. (*Approx a million times).

And, as for my kids I want to build upon these five key values: empathy, curiosity, creativity, capability and appreciation.

  • Empathy because it’s one of the most important skills we could possibly have. At its simplest, it’s awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people. It not only contributes to building and maintaining strong and healthy relationships, but it enables us to work more effectively and achieve greater success in general. This may sound idealistic, but that doesn’t stop it from being true.
  • Curiosity because it makes your mind active versus passive, observant of new ideas and open to new ones. This can feel exciting.
  • Creativity because it makes life infinitely interesting. Creativity isn’t solely for artistic pursuits, it’s for everyone. Today’s world calls for creative leaders. Being creative stimulates lateral thinking and drives innovation. I like to think of it as helping build the imagination economy.
  • Capability because it builds character. We all face having to do something for the first time, but the good news is, after we have tried something new we’re up to our second time, and it gives us the opportunities to build up learnings and confidence along the way. We never stop learning.
  • Appreciation because it builds our self-confidence, self-esteem and our entire self-image. It also gives us energy and fosters opportunities to thrive.

A leader can be any age at all.  You tell me you haven’t met a three-year-old who isn’t one already.

We can only ever be ourselves and at some point that has to be good enough. As a mum I want my children to live a life that is true to them, and as a leader I focus on a cycle of continuous improvement. Being better never stops. I learned that one from my mum.

Jane McCarroll is the strategic partnership lead for the Skills Group including IMNZ, The Institute of Management New Zealand, helping leaders stand up and lead since 1946.

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