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Being a great leader by applying what I’ve learned as a mother

By Abby Curnow-Chavez  bio

With Mother’s Day just behind us, I’ve been thinking about the connection between motherhood and my other “job” – not the one of mom to teenage boys, but my work as a leadership consultant and executive coach. 

As parents, we are “leading leaders” and just like leaders in business, shifting from parenting to “leading leaders” requires an adjustment in approach and expectations. In the context of work, this seems obvious, yet as parents, this transition can be so much harder and less apparent.

As our children grow and as our employees become new leaders, they need enough room to successfully do their new job, step into their new accountabilities, build new skills, including messing up, learning and growing. Ultimately a good boss and parent supports, teaches, and coaches to ensure success. We should expect challenges and setbacks, as well as surprise and delight when they show us what they’re truly capable of.

When I work with business leaders to prepare them to take on bigger jobs, we often spend time understanding (and avoiding) the typical leadership transition traps. In business, here’s some of the classic things that trip up leaders:  

  • They fail to trust and empower the leaders who work for them. They feel they can do it better or they aren’t sure of the other person’s capabilities, so they keep tasks for themselves;
  • They hold on too tight to what they did before and how they did it, even though the new job requires something very different from them;
  • They aren’t sure how to “create value” in their new role; if they aren’t “doing the work” anymore, they aren’t sure how to spend their time.

In truth, for many of us, these are the exact same things that trip us up as parents. As our kids get older they force us to adjust our role and purpose. They insist on more independence, freedom, and autonomy—and for the most part they are highly capable.

Most days, I feel like I’m a much better leadership consultant than mother, but I do know there are some extremely important leadership learnings I’ve faced as a mother that I apply to my consulting. In the spirit of Mother’s Day, I plan to renew my commitment to not only being the best mother and “leader of little leaders” I can be, but also to the executives I coach.

Here are 10 leadership rules I’ve adapted from motherhood for business:

  1. If you can and should be doing it, I’m not doing it for you—when I do it for you I’m holding you back.
  2. It’s okay for you to have setbacks and make mistakes—when you do, the only thing I expect from you is that you openly and honestly explore why it happened, think about what you could have done differently, and make the shifts necessary to avoid the same mistake.
  3. You’re smarter and more capable than both of us even know—I will help you explore what you’re best at and help create opportunities for you to learn, grow, and be your best; your potential to achieve greatness is unlimited.
  4. I will be clear about my expectations and then trust you to live up to them—I know you want to do the right thing (even though sometimes you won’t – see #2).
  5. When you tell me you’ve “got it covered” I will give you the space to follow-through—I won’t ask you ten times if you’ve done it yet (see #4).
  6. I’m here to help you expand your self-awareness, learn what you’re capable of, help you see your own potential, and build your confidence—I realize this won’t happen without honesty, candor, transparency, and positive intent.
  7. I care about your opinion—I want to hear your views and understand how you think about things; when I’m asking you questions it is because I care and want to learn more about you, not to interrogate and fault find.
  8. I will work to create positive energy and optimism—I know you’ll be your best if that’s what our relationship feels like.
  9. I will recognize and celebrate your milestones, successes, and accomplishments—small and large.
  10. I’m on your team, always—you never have to question my intentions or commitment to you.

The truly great business leaders I know exemplify the value that “true leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” As parents, we have one true purpose: prepare our children to go out into the world independently and responsibly, with confidence and kindness, to do great things.

To all the Moms out there, I hope you had a Happy Mother’s Day. And remember: we’ve got this!

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