It wasn’t until my son entered Kindergarten that it hit me.
Before becoming a mom, I thought about what I would teach my kids. How to say please, tie a shoe, and all of that.
But I’ve realized that what my kids taught me was far more powerful. Guiding my kids brought to life what it takes to develop talent, maintain calm, and inspire.
My son recently started ice skating. This meant weeks of watching him stand, slip, and try again. What surprises me is that he (or I) never thought he should quit. My role as a parent was to give him the space and encouragement he needed to learn. This perspective changed how I viewed developing talent.
It is far easier to keep employees doing what they’ve mastered. And to have a low tolerance for errors when they venture out. This attitude also overlooks their potential and is no way to develop their careers – or retain them.
So I found myself looking for opportunities to help others grow.
For instance, I had an employee that wouldn’t present to clients. She knew her inexperience and fear needed fixing to build her impact at the company. We set a plan that began with her presenting in team meetings. I knew from my kids that providing an opportunity to practice wasn’t enough. Providing reassurance that you’ll be there to catch them is equally important. I listened to her rehearsals and shared feedback. Soon she signed up to lead a department training and then an all-company talk. Within two years, she ran hard-hitting briefs for clients’ executive teams. Like a proud parent, I always knew she’d get there.
Kids are shockingly observant. They learn by watching how you behave. Parents set their standards of what’s acceptable and expected. If I eat on the couch, my kids will feel it’s OK to do this regardless of what rules I’ve said.
Going further, parents set the norms in their family. Their routines and interactions help their kids feel safe and loved. My daughter even puts her stuffed animals to bed with the same blanket and bottle routine I used to put her to bed. Just as parents are vital in setting the standards and norms at home, leaders are crucial in establishing the expectations and the culture at work.
If I send emails on weekends, my team will think that I expect this behavior - regardless of what I say. To have a standard kept requires embodying it. This norm setting applies to creating a great team culture too.
Making space for quality time takes intention. A leader’s role is to create opportunities - such as activities, chats, or even running jokes - for the team to build rapport and trust.
Becoming a parent tightened my workday (daycares force boundaries) and made working on weekends more painful. Returning after maternity leave felt like a boot camp in time management.
Then came Covid-19 lockdowns. Every day was exhausting, trying to get through deadlines, client meetings, and class projects.
To survive, I cared less about each activity and more about core goals, like can my kid read. I started relying on educational apps like SplashLearn to get progress reports and pinpoint what to address. Everything else was a distraction. This unapologetic core metric focus also applied to how I handled work.
I stepped back from accepting each assignment and asked which projects were worth championing. I also more closely monitored goals for faster course corrections to avoid wasted effort. Individual accountability skyrocketed.
Our client base grew, and my team had higher productivity and lower turnover that year. They liked having clearer goals and higher expectations.
I give this a half because it’s partly executive presence and partly leadership. In any case, my view of work changed after my first was born. While I still cared about my career, I also had something else that depended on me and brought me joy.
My ego and sense of what mattered became less tied to my job performance. As a result, I became less concerned about workplace dramas. Rehashing why he wasn’t getting along with her on a project now felt like wasted aggravation. Being handed a high-stakes project became just another thing on my list. If no one is going to the hospital, then we’re good.
Ironically, not getting worked up raised my executive presence. My kids helped me keep a broader perspective of what really matters to me at the end of the day.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Robin Sherk is the author of 4th Mom Memos, a biweekly newsletter about motherhood, management, and leadership (see more here). She is also an analyst and consultant. Contact her directly on her 4thmom.com blog here.
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