A Mother’s Day Celebration of the Leadership Traits We Naturally Possess
If you’re a mom, your kids have done more than steal your heart, make you laugh, and (occasionally) drive you crazy. They’ve also brought out your inner leader. Just in time for Mother’s Day, Dr. Nancy D. O’Reilly looks at seven leadership traits moms possess naturally, and how they manifest in business as well as in the business of mothering.
It’s a great time to be a woman. Over the past few decades, the leadership torch has passed from one gender to the other. Not that men are irrelevant in business. (Far from it.) It’s just that women’s “feminine skills”—those inherent qualities that make the fairer sex such great nurturers, connectors, and collaborators—are being recognized for the tremendous value they bring to the global economy. And according to Dr. Nancy D. O’Reilly, these skills aren’t just seen at the conference table: They’re on full display at play dates and PTO meetings, too.
“When I was researching my book about the secrets of successful women, I realized something amazing (but not surprising),” says O’Reilly, who in collaboration with 19 other female leaders wrote Leading Women : 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life (Adams Media, 2015, ISBN: 978-1-440-58417-6, $16.99,www.drnancyoreilly.com ). “All moms are leading women. Whether a mother works outside the home or not, nowhere are her leadership skills more apparent than when she parents her children.”
Lois P. Frankel, PhD, who is one of O’Reilly’s coauthors, says that you are a leader if you have ever convinced anyone to follow you. Mothers definitely fall into that category—just think of how they manage to corral their broods into a (more or less) cooperative group while handling a myriad of tasks such as negotiating client contracts, cooking dinner, and organizing the high school fundraiser!
Here are just a few leadership skills women naturally possess—and how they manifest in both business and in the business of mothering:
Mothers are flexible enough to do what works. Whether you’re moving forward with a new business plan, leading a team charged with fixing a faulty process, or pitching a new idea to a client, you’ll surely run into roadblocks and opposition. Women are great at navigating these situations because, instead of digging in their heels and holding fast, they stay open to other options. They’re great at coming up with solutions that benefit everyone. And according to O’Reilly, many women learn this skill in the trenches of motherhood.
Mothers are giving, nurturing, and empathetic (and yes, these are leadership skills).These “soft skills” are actually quite formidable and difficult to learn. After all, points out coauthor Birute Regine, EdD, no one ever succeeded in mastering relational intelligence during a two-hour seminar! The innate ability to nurture relationships makes women amazing leaders in the workplace. They can have a huge impact on company culture and morale (and thus productivity and growth).
“Even more than business leaders, mothers give freely of their time, energy, and love—usually without questioning it for a second,” says O’Reilly. “Of course, this is only part of what it takes to raise high-functioning human beings—parents must also instill a work ethic, self-discipline, and so forth—but it’s the caring and encouraging that makes these life skills ‘stick.’ Why? Because it makes the kids want to master the attitudes and behaviors Mom is imparting.
“Soft skills fuel performance because they speak to the acknowledgment and validation people crave, deep down,” she adds. “This is true whether they’re five or 55—and whether the setting is the home or the workplace.”
Mothers like to talk. Yes, women occasionally get a bad rap for being chatty (which is actually a misconception in business, points out coauthor Claire Damken Brown, PhD, since research shows men talk more and hold the floor longer during meetings). However, it turns out that our talking patterns are actually a huge strength. Feminine communication contains valuable, detailed information that helps us understand the situation and make connections.
Mothers make meaningful connections (beyond mere networking). In business, traditional let’s-exchange-business-cards networking rarely pays off in a meaningful way. Often, that’s because participants go into each interaction wondering, What can this person do for me? Instead, connections that result in success happen when we ask, What can we accomplish together?
Mothers know how to facilitate collaboration. Successful collaboration is a valuable business (and life) skill, and as anyone who’s ever done it knows, it involves a lot more than just putting a group of people in a room and asking them to work together. To achieve positive results, points out coauthor Birute Regine, EdD, leaders must accurately read nonverbal cues and others’ emotions, use empathy, and be sensitive to fairness and turn-taking.
Mothers are resilient. In business, female leaders are often noted for their ability to power through tough times, creatively using obstacles as teachable moments and stepping stones. These women shift their focus away from what went wrong (and even away from how theythought the outcome should look) and focus instead on how their current resources can be leveraged to create a rosier future for their organizations. (For example, if a leader’s company is failing in one area, she might see that “failure” as a springboard to move in a fresh new direction.)
Mothers don’t mind asking for help. For the most part, women are not diehard individualists. That’s because they value the greater good—of their team, department, employees, or family—more than their own egos. And on an instinctive level, they understand that utilizing the resources and expertise of others is often the most efficient and effective way to get things done—at the office and at home.
“Women don’t feel diminished as individuals when we enlist the aid of others—quite the opposite!” O’Reilly notes. “We understand that tapping into our ‘sisterhood’s’ collective intelligence is something to be proud, not ashamed, of. And this is nothing new; as I’ve pointed out, women have been relying on each other for eons. It’s easy to imagine one of our ancestors asking another, ‘Can I drop the kids off at your cave while I gather dinner? How do you get them to eat all their bison?’ And of course, we still do this: ‘Do you know a reliable babysitter? Where’s the best place to buy stick-on labels for summer camp?'”
“By seeing mothers as leaders whose parenting experience can translate profitably into the professional realm, all of us—moms, families, and organizations—stand to gain tremendously,” she says.
About the Author:
Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, is an author of Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life and urges women to connect to help each other create a better world. As a clinical psychologist, motivational speaker, and women empowerment expert, O’Reilly helps women create the satisfying and purposeful lives they want to benefit themselves, their families, and their communities. For more information, please visit www.drnancyoreilly.com and follow the author onFacebook and Twitter .