Mothering as a Metaphor for Leadership

I often quote good parenting strategies in discussions with my coaching clients. When I get raised eyebrows I remind them that we use our highest values and our very best knowledge and skills when parenting our children, so why would we not transfer our very best to the workplace? I was inspired to think further and more deeply about this concept by the part of Beverly Horton’s piece “mothering as a verb”. If we look at the verbs she used – nurturing, guiding, supporting, loving, they seem little different than the verbs I might use for effective leadership. This is particularly true if we think of loving as the unconditional love we have for a child. That love that has us be a coach rather than a dictator, has us confront when situations arise that we know are potentially damaging, and has us provide consequences, both positive and negative, to ensure continued growth and learning.

I was further reminded of the parallels in a recent conversation with a client. She has a complicated CEO role and is also a single mom with two spirited (some would say difficult) teenagers. Her comment drew a graphic picture of the side of leadership none of us enjoy when she quipped, “Parenting teenagers is Bootcamp for managing difficult people at work.”

In a recent Centre for Creative Leadership article Kim Leahy is commenting on the identity shift, from individual performer to leader/manager and identifies a list of functions or competencies that a person needs when he or she makes this move.

"It requires a different definition of success, a new level of self-awareness and an additional range of skills," says Leahy.

As I reflected on her list below, it struck me that they were not unlike the skills needed for competent leadership in a family (parenting). At a glance you might think adapting to cultural differences doesn’t fit – if you don’t think so you have not spent much time with teenagers lately.

  • Delegating.
  • Building and maintaining relationships.
  • Resolving conflict.
  • Leading team achievement.
  • Coaching and developing others.
  • Confronting problem employees.
  • Embracing change.
  • Innovative problem-solving.
  • Adapting to cultural differences.

I challenge you to take time to reflect and consider the functions Leahy describes above. Use them to assess your performance as a leader or as a parent.