They say that God could not be everywhere, so he created parents. And an argument has been going on for eons between the two parents on who stand’s more significant. Well, the motive of this write up is not to embark on this particular argument. Instead, the objective here is to do a ballpoint review of the roles and responsibilities of a mother and see if one can draw logical analogies that might be useful in management and leadership context. From a management point of view, first, let’s recount the roles and responsibilities of a mother -
- Responsible for physical upbringing of her children
- Provide an environment that encourages growth and development of children
- Act as an emotional anchor to ensure balanced growth of children
- Be a fair judge of her child’s abilities and provide a learning environment in accordance
- In case of more than one child, act as a referee to sort out disputes and arguments
Now, I would request you to go back and read the above pointers as roles and responsibilities of a leader. Do you feel they fit perfectly? Of course, the scope of both the roles encompasses a lot of other things which are mutually exclusive, but the above-mentioned points definitely are an overlap. Below I will elaborate some aspects of a mother’s role that could be lessons for anyone aspiring to become a leader in the true sense. A leader who is not only respected and looked upon by his team members but is also capable of manifesting results from them.
So here goes my list… read on and validate it!
Be Compassionate and Get Personally Involved
Motherhood and compassion go hand in hand. A woman can not completely enjoy her role as a mother until she is compassionate and spends some time every day exclusively with her kid. Even a working mother craves to get back from work and have a few joyful moments with her kid before she gets on with her other chores.
A manager to be a successful leader must also spend some time on a regular basis with his team members. He must assign a time slot in his work schedule to listen to what his team members think about subjects related or unrelated to work goals.
One of my managers made sure that the team spent half-an-hour tea/coffee break together at least twice a week. During such breaks, he was vigilant enough to pick up each members' frequency and later, he personally called on those members who seemed out of their usual mental shape or sounded low in spirits. It helped him pin down any disengaging members or other concerns without wasting too much time.
Provide a congenial environment for individual learning and growth
Right from the birth of a child, a mother keeps track of her child’s growth milestones and modifies or introduces new practices and routines to enable proper growth and development. Though a mother does this at a physical, emotional and mental level for her child, a direct analogy is only logical in case of a leader who should provide ample opportunities for his team members to grow in terms of knowledge and skills.
A leader should ensure that his team members receive enough opportunities to continuously up-skill themselves. This can be done by nominating team members for formal training or recommending self-learning study material for conceptual expansion of knowledge through available resources in the organization or via means of on the job training for wider exposure and quick Return on Investment.
Agree to Disagree
A mother and child relationship encompasses a rainbow of emotions. As the child grows up into a teenager, a lot of friction tends to build in, which is mostly driven by generation gap. Most mothers ease out this friction by arriving at a truce with their teenager where they agree to go along with changes introduced by the younger generation. They do not agree with many of these suggested changes yet agree to fall in line given the DNA of their values and principles is not disturbed.
In the organizational context, the following statement by one of my most respected managers surmises the essence. He often quoted the phrase, “I agree to disagree with you. I recommend that you follow these instructions, yet I will not dissuade you from pursuing your stand. Just make sure you do not cross the line or rub anyone in a wrong manner”. In a light moment, I asked him why he ‘agreed to disagree with me’ and give me this liberty. His answer was, “If I do not allow you to go the unconventional way, you may never learn to distinguish the ‘right’ from the ‘practical’. Also, I might run a risk of suffocating you by not giving you space to try out different things”.
Don’t Play Favorites
Ever heard of a mother having favorites among her children? I know the answer would be yes in the face of sibling arguments and differences. Yet when the storm has passed, every child knows in their heart that their mom wasn’t being unjust or taking sides out of personal bias. The integrity of a mother as we have come to understand is beyond questioning.
A manager may sometimes choose to give some leeway to his best performing team member considering his confidence about this team member’s performance. But when it is one team member against the other, a manager aspiring to be a good leader cannot play favorites.
This is of utmost importance to keep the synergy of the team from getting polarized. Being fair while in dealing with conflicts in the team will go a long way in creating an atmosphere of trust and confidence in the team. And of course, it will make a dependable and respected leader out of you.
Know Where to Use a Carrot and Where a Stick
All situations do not summon similar reactions. Nor do they summon similar plan of action. A mom understands too well the nerve of her kids and knows what reactions will trigger desirable results in a given circumstance. When a child is upset, she makes his favorite dish to lighten up his mood; while in a different point of time she will give him a piece of her mind and let him be for some time to let him put his act together.
Likewise, a manager must have the ability to evaluate a situation and the impact of his reactions in a given situation. Certain performance issues may call for a one-on-one and a well-thought performance improvement plan (PI Plan); while continuous inability to perform may beckon an ultimatum. The steps to be taken in case of low performance are mostly documented in a policy, but nuances related to when and how to implement these steps are definitely dependent on a leader’s IQ and EQ. I know of a case from one of the organizations I worked with, where the manager was patient enough to take a special liberty on the PI Plan for a team member. A lot was questioned about it and much furor was raised against such bias, yet everyone was silenced when in the next appraisal cycle this particular team member turned around his performance.
Be There and Take a Stand
A mom may scold her children, be strict with them or even punish them, but she has an exclusive right to such behavior with her kids. Any outsider is just not allowed to practice this right. In case such a behavior does come from anyone else, she takes full responsibility for the uncalled incident and takes it upon herself to transform her child.
In the face of adversity, which in the corporate context could be a professional blunder relating to performance, ill-timed delivery, quality or code of conduct, a leader must not wash his hands off by disowning his responsibility. What disciplinary or corrective action he ought to take is usually prescribed by policies; or if not, is mostly discussed and decided behind closed doors and not by creating a scene about it. One of my friends worked with a manager who was very popular among the top line of the organization, but none of her juniors were even remotely satisfied working with her. Every time there was a mistake from her team, her first reaction was to set out to prove that it was not her mistake. Instead, she took pride in establishing that it was one of her ‘average’ team members who made the blunder. I’d rather say, she’d displayed some spine and owned up to the mistake.