lessons from mothers

3 Things I Learned About Leadership from My Mom

Last week we committed to dedicating this blog in the month of May to “The Wellness of the Leader." If you are not considering wellness in your development, then you are leaving a big component of your leadership unexamined that is having an impact on your effectiveness. This week's blog really had a profound impact on me personally. Funny how sometimes when I write, I am actually the target audience.

As a staff, we try and plan these blogs out several months in advance. My daughter Gretchen and assistant Brandi have convinced me to be more culturally aware in my writing. Since Mothers Day just passed, I thought I would reflect on the impact my mom had on me as a leader.

Family happiness! Happy mother tenderly embracing his two sons in spring day, warm feelings of the mother, moment of life, happy family on nature

Hence, here are three things I learned about leadership from my mom:

Culture Matters

My mom was all about family. We were together all the time. Not just my parents and siblings, but grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I mean all the time. My mom was a “stay at home mom," and I was with my grandparents every day. The culture of the family mattered. My mom created a family culture that oozed safety and security for us as kids.

My good friends and experts on organization culture Dr. Boyd Johnson and Dr. Mike Linville will undoubtedly support this notion of the importance of culture in organizations. As will my old boss and good friend Tom Considine, who famously agrees with Peter Drucker that "culture eats strategy for lunch."

Culture, Culture, Culture rings through my mind this morning with the same tone that Jan Brady had in the old Brady Bunch episode, complaining that her sister Marsha got all the attention…Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!!! Culture needs to get much more attention in organizations than it currently does.

Edgar Schein, the great organizational culture theorist says that in our Western traditions of human nature, humans are social animals with primary social needs(1). When these humans come together, if they are to survive, a set of rules and regulations will need to be established to make the environment safe for everyone.

I hope you caught the nuance. The rules and regulations are about making the environment safe. This set of rules and regulations is not about making people feel valued or understood, but safe. Why? Because when people feel safe, they are able to perform at maximum capacity. When they feel threatened, then survival mode kicks in, thinking decreases, and the ability for them to hear what the leader has to say goes down.

This is why we say when leaders are trying to make a point or provide feedback, it is important to focus less on what you have to say and more on how the person is receiving it. If the person receiving the feedback feels safe, then there is a greater likelihood that your message will be heard.

My mom created an environment of safety and security (with discipline) that allowed for growth and wellbeing to be nurtured.

Question for Reflection: Are you being intentional, like my mom, about the culture you are creating as a leader?

Leaders Show Up

You can’t delegate presence.  As a leader, you can delegate a lot of things to other people. You can not delegate your physical presence when it is needed by your followers.

In my family, it didn’t matter what you had going on, you showed up for weddings and funerals.  You showed up for birthday parties and baptisms. You went to church every Sunday morning. My parents never missed a sporting event, a theatrical performance, a band concert,  or a Christmas Pageant.

If you want followers to follow you, then you have to show up to what is important to them. Are they making a big presentation, and you are triple booked on your calendar? Show up! Do they have a meeting scheduled with you where they need a decision? Show up! Is there a crisis in their life and they need you to listen? Show up!

What can I say? My mom showed up. This created a feeling of caring and support that allowed for risk taking and freedom.

Question for Reflection: Are you showing up, like my mom, for your followers when they need you most?

Leaders Sacrifice

I grew up in a blue-collar, working class neighborhood in Peoria, Illinois. My parents came from working class parents who worked on assembly lines at Caterpillar and Corn Products. We did not grow up with privilege, status, or great means.  Yet I always had new shoes for basketball tryouts, killer birthday parties (the envy of the neighborhood), and an extra $20 bill in my pocket for gas driving back to college. Mom never seemed to have the newest or best, but I always did.

Followers notice the sacrifices of the leader. They notice when you stay late and help them with a project when you could be off to a social event. They notice when you answer the phone or a text. They notice when you give of yourself to them when you had other options.

What do you think you might get in return for your sacrifice? I would propose commitment, loyalty, and extra effort.

Interestingly, do you know what is missing in a lot of organizations today? I would suggest commitment, loyalty, and extra effort.

I wonder if there is a reason?

The one thing I would add is that mom never expected anything in return. If you expect loyalty, then to me that is a bit coercive. But if you willingly sacrifice as a leader, expecting nothing in return, like my mom, then you may just get the loyalty and commitment you are looking for.

Question for Reflection: Are you sacrificing, like my mom, for your followers and expecting nothing in return?

Thanks Mom for all you taught be about being a leader!

I told you at the beginning that this weeks writing had a profound impact on me. So much so, I just booked a flight to be with my mom on Mother's Day! Can’t wait to be with you mom on this special day.  Happy Mother's Day!

Homework: Consider the reflection questions posed in the article. After you spend some time thinking about them, see if you notice any changes that you need to make in how you are approaching your leadership.

Happy Mother's Day to all you Moms out there!

  1. Schein, E. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (p. 144).