As a working mother reporting to a female boss (who is also a mother of two kids), I couldn’t help but notice the unique maternal qualities that fortify leadership. 'Paternalistic' is a word in the English dictionary & there exists the paternalistic style of leadership. Shockingly, there is no word called 'maternalistic' in the dictionary. Paternalistic leadership has ‘paternalistic’ as a gender-neutral term & it means leading the organization like a family. However, it is still a very imprecise term, because in a family, the mother & the father parent in completely different ways. So, there should be two clear-cut defined styles of leadership.
I think it’s time we usher the maternalistic style of HR leadership because the HRs are after all the “mothers” (ignore the gender) in an organization. Employees come to us for everything operational or non-technical & we generally have an answer… just like our mothers at home!
If I were to define the core characteristics of the maternalistic style of leadership, they would be:
An important question HRs should ask themselves is, “do I care enough for the employees?” Just like a mother does at home, every strategy of the HR head & respective action taken by the HR department should come from a place of care for the employees. Actions speak louder than words & employees should feel that someone’s got their back. HR should create an empathetic environment where voicing thoughts, ideas & issues feels safe & simple by channelizing information in the appropriate direction & not misusing it.
If diversity is a strategy, inclusion is a practice. Imagine people coming to a party & socializing in small fixed groups; inclusion is making sure that they all mix up with each other & dance together. And, that’s an HR’s job. Inclusion benefits everyone; it builds a connection between employees & gives them another reason to come to work. Mothers are adept at inclusion - making sure that all family members feel included in family events or simply even day-to-day meals.
Generosity with Fairness
“Be kind but be fierce.” Mothers are generous but also strict when they should be. Similarly, in organizations, successes & small or big milestones should be celebrated (not just appreciated) while failures should be objectively analyzed & followed with the appropriate action. Like a mother has the greater good of the family in mind, the HR should aim towards the greater good of the organization by striking the right balance between the organization’s mission/purpose & employee engagement.
Open-mindedness in identifying opportunities
Conflicts & other problems can be opportunities to build better processes for the future. Employees’ failures can be used to identify L&D areas by involving their reporting managers. The true talent of HR lies in strategizing about the growth of employees & the organization amidst daily crises of the workplace. This is putting the maternal approach of ‘whatever happens, happens for good’ in action.
Strong mothers are sensitive & honest & they display bias-for-action from a place of acceptance for their deepest vulnerabilities. Real courage is not in armouring up & avoiding conversations about vulnerabilities; courage is in owning vulnerabilities & building a connection from there. Brave leaders own their vulnerabilities & ask for help when required. Employees appreciate & respect such honest leadership & in fact, are frank in discussing things with such leaders. “Our ability to be daring leaders will never be greater than our capacity for vulnerability” – Dr. Brené Brown.
The maternalistic style of leadership is something that has existed since a long time but never defined. It needs to be discussed more & developed further as it would imply new strides in the field of HR leadership.