'Leadership Bootcamp': Women leaders share their lessons from motherhood
Just as our actions and learnings from work can also help us in our personal and domestic lives, the reverse is also true.
Take motherhood. Earlier, it used to be a reason for a woman to drop out of work, and today it is a transformative journey for a woman, and a woman leader too. There are biological and physiological changes with motherhood, and this process, say women leaders, shape them in various ways and provide them with valuable lessons that help them in the workplace.
Trust and delegation
“You need to trust that your cover is able to steer the ship in your absence and delegate decision making, rather than take it upon yourself to juggle motherhood and work commitments,” says Carol Fong, Group CEO of CGS-CIMB Securities, a leading broker in retail, corporate and institutional banking.
Don’t short-change yourself and learn to let go
Fong adds, “As leaders, we carry the weight of the organisation as 'the buck stops with you'. We need to learn to let go and enjoy motherhood to the fullest as the time you spend with your newborn baby cannot be replaced.”
See things differently and spot opportunities others may miss
Prominent women venture capitalist Madhu Shalini Iyer, Partner at Rocketship.vc - a global early-stage venture capital firm pioneering the use of data in making investment decisions, says being a mother has been one of the most rewarding and defining aspects of her life.
“I am continually amazed and inspired by my children, though at times, being the mother of two boys is extremely challenging. As a venture capitalist, part of my job is to see the opportunity in startups that others may not. Through the eyes of my children, I am able to see the world from a new perspective and learn,” she says.
Iyer adds that her children have taught her a lot in terms of what is current now: music, food, use of technology, fashion, even words that she doesn’t know the meaning of and so much more. “I hope to stay as continually curious as they are and preserve that part of my inner child that is excited to learn new things, see things differently, and adapt rapidly to changes," she adds.
Learning to be resilient, collaborate, manage time
Malou Toft, Vice President, APAC at Milestone Systems, a global industry leader in open platform video management software, says she learnt early on that one of the most important roles for a leader is to develop a resilient, collaborative, and self-starting team that can run the show when the leader is away.
“As a general manager and mother of four children, time management and prioritisation of vital tasks are critical to success and being an effective member of the team,” she says.
Secondly, Toft says that ambitious career goals can coexist with family life, but you must be willing to make compromises as well.
“Finding a balance between personal and professional life is key to being able to succeed as both a working professional and parent. Overall, I believe that enabling parents to take parental leave benefits businesses by increasing employee satisfaction and diversity in the workplace,” she adds.
Set better boundaries
Cassandra Poon, associate producer, Ubisoft Singapore, and a mother of one, says motherhood certainly made her a better manager, as being a mother has made her see the world in a different light.
“It’s a self-discovery process. There are biological and physiological changes with motherhood, and this process is slowly and surely shaping me every day in subtle ways, including how I approach my team, managers, and family members. It has made me a more patient and understanding person to my fellow colleagues at Ubisoft. I also regularly chat with newly-wedded colleagues or mothers-to-be in the office on how to cope with situations, and these relationships I’ve built with them act as a form of support,” she says.
Poon says motherhood has also helped her set better boundaries.
“I am more firm and have a lower tolerance for immature behaviour that I immediately advise against and correct. I had mild post-natal depression and the three months of maternity confinement enhanced the mental fortitude where, if I can literally handle human waste all over and on me, when things hit the fan in projects, I can handle them just as well,” she adds.
On top of her role producing some of the world’s most popular games, Poon quadruples as a co-founder of a Chinese metaphysics consultancy (Windsli), a project mentor at Bridges, a personal coach, and an advisor at ZaZaZu, a sexual wellness company.
Balancing foresight and adaptability
Denise Nah, senior communications manager, ASEAN & Greater China, Salesforce, a first-time mother who has just returned from her maternity break less than a month ago, says she used to dread change and rushed through it without really reflecting on what was happening.
“As I watched my baby cross each milestone, it made me realise how necessary change was for his development and that is in fact, something to be joyful about. This is a perspective I’m challenging myself to adopt as I transition back to work,” says Nah, who brings with her more than a decade’s worth of experience in communications.
“I also learnt that while planning ahead is necessary, it is just as essential not to get attached to plans. A last-minute change in nap time or a dirty diaper may have a knock-on effect on my schedule, but when my baby has other ideas, there is nothing I can do about it! Likewise, I value the balance that having the foresight and being adaptable brings to any work situation,” she adds.