7 Leadership Lessons from Parenthood
This week, my son, Deon, turned 27. I cannot believe I’ve been someone’s mother for almost three decades! Parenting has been both the toughest and most rewarding job I’ve ever held. Here are seven critical lessons I’ve learned from motherhood that anchor my professional life.
Conditions Don’t Have to Be Perfect Yield an Amazing Outcome
I had my son at 18 and dropped out of college for three semesters. Being young, single and broke is far from the ideal scenario to start a family, but that’s the situation I found myself in. Yes, there were plenty of struggles along the way, but my greatest accomplishment is being Deon’s mom and he has brought me unimaginable joy over the past 27 years.
Have you been waiting for perfect conditions to start your business or position yourself for new opportunities at work? While you want to be wise about the right time to make significant investments of time and resources, waiting for the planets to align could keep you on the sidelines forever. Figure out what actions are within your capacity – no matter how small they seem – and make your move. You don’t know what wonderful things you could be missing out on.
It Takes A Village
I’m annoyed when someone says to me, “Isha, you managed to turn things around from being a teen mom on welfare. Why can’t more people take responsibility for their lives?” Trust me when I say I had an entire village of support behind me. Without that, I’m not sure where I’d be. From having a great co-parenting relationship with my son’s dad, friends and family who babysat without hesitation, to bosses who made reasonable accommodations for my situation, I was not in this alone. Even when I graduated from college and started my professional career, I had friends who stepped in when an emergency kept me working beyond daycare hours or needed to travel for business.
If you’re committed to accomplishing something significant, don’t try to do it by yourself. Find ways to outsource work in your business or home to free up your capacity. Bring people to your team who balance out your weaknesses. Develop the people around you to carry more of the load. Perhaps most importantly, realize that just because they don’t do it the way you would doesn’t make it wrong! While your capacity for greatness may be unlimited, your capacity for hands-on work is not.
Cast The Vision
When my son was 3 or 4, I made a deal with him: Allow me to study without interruption and I’ll take you to Disney World when I graduate. He held up his end of the bargain and a year after I earned my degree, we were hanging with the mouse in Orlando.
Even as a preschooler, he possessed the capacity to hold the vision in his mind’s eye to guide his actions. Do you have a vision that motivates you? How does it influence the choices you make? If you lead others, have they bought into the vision, too? Do they understand the critical role they play in achieving it? Don’t just stick it away in a journal or leave it to wither away after the excitement of the team retreat is over. Find ways to keep it in front of you and everyone who has a role in its accomplishment.
Plan for Imperfection
When my son started washing dishes, I remember constantly pulling spotted plates out of the cabinet for him to wash again. And let’s not even talk about the time he put my cast iron skillet in the dishwasher! At the time, it would have been less stressful to reclaim the task than deal with the constant frustration of his missteps, but then I’d be stuck washing dishes for the rest of my life.
If entrepreneurship is a part of your plans, prepare for a steep learning curve. You’re going to have to learn new skills and strategies that will push you out of your comfort zone. You will set goals that you won’t achieve. If you’re used to being a high achiever, that can be a sharp blow to the ego. It can make you question if you’re cut out for this. But just like Deon learned to wash dishes, you’ll figure it out over time if you invest in your growth.
Do you remember when you realized your parents were actually people? Maybe you believed they were infallible, only to find out you were missing half the story. Or perhaps adulthood allowed you to see them through more empathetic eyes as you grew to understand the circumstances that lead to their flaws.
One of the reasons I believe my son and I have such a great relationship is because I’ve practiced appropriate levels of vulnerability throughout his life. When I don’t know the answer, I admit it. If I mess up, I own it. What might that look like for you as a leader? As an expert? I’m not suggesting that you confess to your employees or clients how incompetent you feel at times, but what if you gave yourself the grace to take off your superhero cape occasionally?
Know When to Lead, When to Guide, and When to Step Back
Over the past 27 years, I’ve had to become skilled at knowing what my son really needs from me in any given situation. There are times when he wants me to tell him what to do in a situation, but instead, I ask questions that lead him to the answers on his own. In other situations, I have clear, direct counsel that I strongly urge him to follow. And yes, there are even times when I say nothing and let him learn the lesson or prove to himself he can do it on his own.
With five generations in the workplace today, this can be difficult to navigate with the people you lead. You may have young workers on your team so determined to prove their value that they’re closing themselves off from necessary counsel or direction. Employees with their eyes set on retirement may push back against corporate-driven employee development mandates or aggressive goals. What approach will lead to the best long-term outcome for your employee, the team and the organization? Practice emotional intelligence instead of a rigid, one-size-fits-all approach to leading.
Trust the Process
The scary part about parenting is that you don’t have full control over the outcome. No matter how many sacrifices you make or the ranking of the schools you send them to, children still function with the autonomy to make their own decisions. That’s a lot like entrepreneurship. You can perfectly execute the most thoughtful strategy and fail. Or you can fly by the seat of your pants with a half-baked idea and catch lightning in a bottle.
In the words of John Maxwell, sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. What if you allowed yourself to enjoy the ride? To learn the lessons that each experience offers and reap the benefits that wisdom brings over time?
Parenthood, leadership and entrepreneurship have a lot in common. They open us up to what may feel like insurmountable challenges while forcing us to rise to the occasion because others are depending on us. Cherish each lesson learned and the learnings you facilitate for the people around you.