10 Leadership Traits that Work in Motherhood

Today, my best friend’s daughter passed her driver’s license test and within minutes I got a text from my BFF saying, “I stood in the parking lot at the DMV and sobbed like a baby.

This is a very big parent moment.” And, as every good best friend does, I sobbed right alongside her. In that moment, years of memories flooded in from our crazy college parties, to the weddings, baby showers, and birthdays we’ve celebrated together, and sadly, to the difficult health battles of our loved ones – some won and some lost. In a nano-second it hit me like a ton of bricks: Life is ever-changing – our children, who have grown up together, are becoming competent, responsible, hard-working, young adults. They need us less, they want and deserve more autonomy, and they are “ready” to show us what they can do without us. And, we’ve worked hard for this too, yet why is to so tough to let go and give them the room to succeed and soar without us?   

With Mother’s Day around the corner, this morning’s good cry has prompted me to reflect on motherhood and make a connection to my other “job” – not the one of mom to teenage boys, but my work as a leadership consultant, thought-leader, and executive coach. Here’s the connection: In the world of work, this driver’s license accomplishment is like earning a gigantic promotion.

So, whether it’s being the “boss” of a newly promoted teen driver or a business leader, there is typically a paradigm shift required. These new drivers and leaders need enough room to successfully do their new job, step into their new accountabilities, build new skills, including messing up, learning and growing; but ultimately a good “boss” supports, teaches, and coaches to ensure success. We should expect challenges and setbacks, as well as surprise and delight when they show us what they’re truly capable of.

When I work with business leaders to prepare for and take on bigger jobs, we often spend time understanding (and avoiding) the typical leadership transition traps. In business, here’s some of the classic things that trip up leaders:  

• They fail to trust and empower the leaders who work for them (they feel they can do it better or they aren’t sure of capabilities, so they keep it for themselves).

• They hold on too tight to what they did before and how they did it (even though the new job requires something very different from them).

• They aren’t sure how to “create value” in their new role; if they aren’t “doing the work” anymore, they aren’t sure how to spend their time.

In truth, for many of us, these are the exact same things that trip us up as parents of teens. As our kids become teenagers they force us to adjust our role and purpose. They insist on more independence, freedom, and autonomy – and for the most part they are highly capable. As parents of teens we are now “leading leaders” and just like business leaders, it requires an adjustment. In the context of work, this seems obvious, yet as parents, this transition can be so much harder and less apparent.

Most days, I feel like I’m a much better leadership consultant than mother, but I do know there are some extremely important leadership learnings that apply to parenting. In the spirit of Mother’s Day, I plan to renew my commitment to being the best mother and “leader of little leaders” I can be.

These are 10 leadership traits I’ve adapted to motherhood.  know they work in business, so I’m giving them a try with my teenagers:

• If you can and should be doing it, I’m not doing it for you; when I do it for you I’m holding you back.

• It’s okay for you to have setbacks and make mistakes. When you do, the only thing I expect from you is that you openly and honestly explore why it happened, think about what you could have done differently, and make the shifts necessary to avoid the same mistake.

• You’re smarter and more capable than both of us even know. I will help you explore what you’re best at and help create opportunities for you to learn, grow, and be your best; your potential to achieve greatness is unlimited.

• I will be clear about my expectations and then trust you to live up to them.  know you want to do the right thing (even though sometimes you won’t – see #2).

• When you tell me you’ve “got it covered” I will give you the space to follow-through. I won’t ask you ten times if you’ve done it yet (see #4).

* I’m here to help you expand your self-awareness, learn what you’re capable of, help you see your own potential, and build your confidence. I realize this won’t happen without honesty, candor, transparency and positive intent.

* I care about your opinion. I want to hear your views and understand how you think about things; when I’m asking you questions it is because I care and want to learn more about you, not to interrogate and fault find.

• I will work to create positive energy and optimism. I know you’ll be your best if that’s what our home feels like.

• I will recognize and celebrate your milestones, successes and accomplishments – small and large.

* I’m on your team, always. You never have to question my intentions or commitment to you.

The truly great business leaders I know exemplify the value that “true leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” As parents, we have one true purpose: prepare our children to go out into the world independently and responsibly, with confidence and kindness, to do great things. Happy Mother’s Day – we’ve got this, Moms!

Abby Curnow-Chavez is a mother, leadership development expert and co-founder of the Trispective Group. She is the co-author of The Loyalist Team: How Trust, Candor and Authenticity Create Great Organizations. For more information, or to take a free team snapshot assessment, please visit, www.trispectivegroup.com/.