Top 5: Management lessons from motherhood

Everything I know about management, I learned from being a mum. Well, everything useful, at any rate.

Motherhood develops some often under-recognised life-skills that translate seamlessly into management best practice.

If you’re a mum on the verge of returning to work, take heart! The seemingly small actions you take every day to keep your li’l pumpkin in check may hold you in good stead for reigning in your staff and colleagues! If you’re a mum, you already know everything you need to know about informed decision-making, project/time/risk management, flexibility, judging (and juggling!) priorities and any other management theory known to man.

This is a call to arms to working mums everywhere – sweep your bookshelves free of management twaddle and listen to what you already know:

1. Credibility is everything

  • As a mum: as soon as your kids don’t trust you, don’t believe you or don’t feel that you’re there for them – you lose your ability to influence them.
  • As a manager: if your team suspect that you don’t understand or value their work, don’t care about what’s important to them, or don’t value their point of view – they won’t respect you, or trust you, and you’ll lose your authority.
  • The lesson: Rank is not enough. If you want them to follow you, forget the empty rhetoric, stop saying “because I’m your Mum/boss, that’s why” and start understanding their needs, talents and interests. Lead by example. Be the change they want to see.

2. Make it their idea

  • As a mum: if you offer your toddler the choice between a blue shirt and red shirt, they feel empowered about having choices, they choose one of the two options you approved of, AND you successfully diffuse the “it’s time to get dressed” argument! The same approach works for planned outings, activities and healthy food choices.
  • As a manager: Taking the high road is a one-way ticket performance anxiety and burnout. If they think it’s your way or the highway, they’ll stop sharing their ideas and information with you. This will result in you losing your ability to be responsive, generate new solutions and communicate with your team.
  • The lesson: Lead from behind. No manager is an island. You can achieve much more by empowering your team to be think outside the monolithic bureaucracy and fostering and celebrating their individual strengths and ideas. When it MUST be your idea, offer targeted choices that allow a degree of autonomy and flexibility. This cultivates a positive high-performance culture to flourish and it encourages innovation and constructive change to occur in an affirmative way.

3. Manage (great) expectations

  • As a mum: you know your young one isn’t going to take it well if you were supposed to be taking them to the movies, but now you’re taking them to dentist. Managing children’s expectations is vital in maintaining the day’s harmony – not to mention the schedule! Every day as a Mum you frame, assess, negotiate, re-frame and constantly communicate expectations.
  • As a manager: the shortest road to anarchy is a vacuum. You must keep those up and down the chain from you informed of progress on important and emerging issues. Let people know what they can – and can’t – expect from you each step of the way. (Don’t forget to engage your external stakeholders!)
  • The lesson: No surprises. Oversight. Insight. Foresight. The three pillars of motherhood AND management.

4. Choose your battles

  • As a mum: there are days when getting your bub cleaned and dressed counts as an achievement. Any parent who’s ever tried to wrestle, harangue, negotiate, or pull-rank on a toddler to get them NOT to wear the Buzz Lightyear mask and a nappy (and nothing else) to their aunt’s wedding, knows that when it comes to parenting, you need to learn to choose your battles pretty carefully and quickly. Does it REALLY matter if they’ll only eat their veggies from the My Little Pony bowl? If they’re eating their veggies, isn’t that enough?
  • As a manager: Risk management. Priority management. Office politics. Call it whatever you what. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for you to fight every battle. It’s not just about delegation, it’s about assessing which issues and projects truly need and deserve your attention and expertise, and which ones can be better handled elsewhere, or simply let go.
  • The lesson: When it really, REALLY matters – stay firm; on everything else – compromise. Kenny Rogers was right: Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em!

5. Consistency, consistency, consistency

  • As a mum: it can be tough to balance constancy with moderation. I learned the hard way that occasional treats and special dispensations are lots of fun, but life can degenerate into Lord of the Flies if you let go of the reigns too much or too soon. Children need routine to be able to establish ground-rules and expectations and to learn how to follow modeled behaviour.
  • As a manager: it’s important to understand that everything you do at the office is magnified by your level of authority. If you’re a manager, and you come into the office cranky, or flustered, your staff WILL take it personally. If you over-communicate details of your private life, or don’t share anything at all, they will read into it and judge you for it.
  • The lesson: Be flexible, but unflappable. Be dependable and make time to really listen and connect with people. At the office: Make time to chat to 2 people in your office, for no reason other than social, each day. At home: set aside 20 mins to spend one-on-one with each child each day. This time is a valuable investment in your relationship with them and will benefit you endlessly.
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About Lyn Campbell

Lyn likes to be thought of as insightful, articulate and achingly clever, but she's just a bit of a nerd, really. _____________________________________________________ All written content copyright © Lyn Campbell 2008-2012. All rights reserved. No written content may be used, in part or in full, without the author's express written permission. (Pictures available from Google - copyright unknown unless otherwise credited).
This entry was posted in career, Executive Tips, Feminism, Life, Parenting, Top 5, work life balance and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Top 5: Management lessons from motherhood

  1. jonnysoundsketch2 says:

    I think these five “lessons” work well with just about any relationship humans have. Good post, milady.

  2. Stephanie Knaak says:

    Lyn,
    re: Top 5 Management lessons from motherhood:

    What an excellent and insightful post this is! I’d love to reprint it on my site, with your permission. Of course, I would also add a link to your blog. Looking forward to hearing back from you!

    • lyncampbell says:

      Hi Stephanie. Thanks so much for your kind words! I’d be thrilled for you to link to this post (or to my blog) on your site, but I’m afraid I don’t give permission for re-posting of content to other providers (only because it impedes my ability to sell the columns for print if others have already reprinted them).

      Lovely to ‘meet’ you, and I hope you’ll stop by regularly!
      Warmest regards,
      – Lyn

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