My mum is quite petite, gentle and very Scottish. No drill sergeant or carrier of a business card that reads “Household CEO,” she was way more than just a mother. She was my first leader. I realize now that from my earliest days until today, almost every leadership lesson I needed to learn, she taught me.
- SERVANT LEADERSHIP
Books have been written about servant leadership — and big ticket speeches given — but from my earliest memories, I saw my mother live the very tenants of servant leadership. Mum built a home of warmth and love where I felt secure enough to risk striking out on my own, but I knew that I had a soft place to which I could always return. I knew that no matter what, I could always depend on her. She modeled what it meant to be a great mother, wife, daughter and sister.
Teams need to feel connected and team members empowered to take risk, but know that their leaders have their backs if it doesn’t always go according to plan. Team members also need to know what behaviors are acceptable and what being good looks like.
Maybe this was one of the tougher lessons for me to learn. My parents were visiting our home when a massive storm blew through. I arrived at the house to find our backyard flooded and totally upended. My dad, my husband and my mother were beavering away, trying to fix the damage. I’m not sure exactly what I did when I showed up, but my mum threw her hands in the air and yelled, “Stop. Good news: management’s here!”
Being the boss doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers or always be the one in control. A little gratitude and acknowledgement of the hard work of others can go a long way. Letting other people take the lead at times can build their confidence and set an important example of humble leadership.
I was a really good kid and rarely got into trouble, but I knew if I broke the rules or disappointed in some way, it was going to be dealt with. The rules and expectations were clear. In my senior year, my classmates and I were going out for a farewell dinner. My mum warned me she didn’t want me drinking at the event. I went, I didn’t drink and I was not a happy camper. Looking back on it now, it was good advice. Yet, if I had taken that drink, my mum wouldn’t have known.
Accountability cuts two ways. The first way is that when there are rules and expectations, there also have to be consequences. But the second most important element to accountability is that people choose to step up and do the right thing and hold themselves accountable, even if it might be easier to let things slide.
My mum married the man who was to be my dad over 63 years ago. I’ve observed the ebb and flow of their marriage. There was more smooth than rough, but as in any marriage, there were some challenges. I never for a moment saw my mum flinch from that commitment she had made for better or worse. I love watching them together now, as she still laughs at all his old jokes even when she hears them for the umpteenth time.
Team members value the stability of knowing where their leaders stand and that, when the going gets tough, they can count on their leaders to have their backs, stick with it and work it through. This doesn’t mean that tough conversations don’t happen. They do. I’m not naive enough to think all relationships, whether business or personal, work out — but I know I have to work hard and commit to the best possible outcome.
- ALWAYS BE OPEN TO LEARNING
When Facebook came into its own, my mum took it on! She realized that through Facebook, even though she was some 5,000 miles away, she could casually stay connected with what my boys and I were up to. She had never owned a computer and had nothing fancier than a flip phone. In her mid-70s she got her first PC and, some five years later, a smart phone. Unafraid to ask for help and lean into the technology, she fast became my number one Facebook stalker.
Leaders who have nothing to learn show up totally closed off. When you stop learning, you stop growing. No matter how far along you may be in your career, you need to stay open to learning new skills, new ways of doing things and new technologies. It can open up a whole new world for you.
Mum’s always been good at celebrating, but I saw it reach epic proportions when she became a grandmother. Watching her with my boys, I saw her mark every little victory and accomplishment even if it wasn’t quite perfect. They knew they had no bigger cheerleader than their Nanny. Her praise gave them motivation to always strive, even against the biggest challenges. Having her cheer and making her proud was a driver in itself.
We often get so caught up in what lies ahead that we forget to celebrate accomplishments. Demonstrating pride in what others achieve provides recognition and incentive to continue to do well.
So, to my mum and all the mothers out there, happy Mother’s Day. Perhaps without even knowing it, you teach leadership better than anyone else in the world.
Linda Adams is a 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, visit www.trispectivegroup.com.