With Mother’s Day approaching, and having recently returned to work after having my second child, I have found myself reflecting on the parallels between my role and “work” as a parent and my role and work at Blue Beyond, partnering with team members and Fortune 500 clients.
In particular, parenthood has helped to teach me some important lessons that are also applicable in my role as a working professional, and as a leader. This cross-pollination of learning from both contexts has helped me to improve at both roles.
It’s often easy in the busy-ness of both work and life to get caught up in all the to-dos that keep everything running smoothly. The focus on the “what,” however, can sometimes come at the expense of the more important “who.”
As a parent, I recently learned the mantra: Stop (what you’re doing), Drop (your agenda), and Breathe (to connect with yourself)…then Connect (with your child to focus on what they need mentally/emotionally/physically in that moment).
This practice can also be a powerful tool for leaders to remember. Focusing on the people on the team is what makes it possible to successfully accomplish the to-dos. Team members who feel truly seen, heard, and valued also feel more motivated to give their best and stretch themselves to go above and beyond at work.
I will admit it – I’m a recovering perfectionist. Before children, I could spend as much time as I wanted to ensure every single task, big or small, was completed to perfection. And while I still believe that holding oneself – and others around you – to high standards of excellence is important to success, I realize now that not all tasks are created equal.
Let’s face it, there is only so much time in a day. The gift of competing priorities with increasingly limited time means that we as leaders (and parents) have to step back, consider the larger question of “what are we really trying to accomplish” (like raising capable, compassionate children; or enlisting employees to innovate in a new way) and elevate our focus to the priorities that will really make a difference in the long run.
The mark of a good leader is one who can make the leap from excelling at their job, to empowering and supporting others to excel collectively as a team. That means letting go of the “reins”, opening up to new and different ways to solve problems, and creating opportunities for regular feedback, coaching, and guidance along the way. It’s about learning and succeeding together.
Parenthood also provides some good training at letting go of control to learn together. As tempting as it may be to do for my kids what they can learn to do for themselves (from putting on their shoes to picking up their toys), great parents who raise capable adults know how to step back, give space to try new things in new ways, listen and make observations along the way, and allow their kids (and themselves) to fail, succeed, and learn every step of the way.
Leadership and parenthood are full-time jobs that often require long hours and a lot of effort and energy. Knowing how to set and keep clear boundaries is key. That means being able to say “no” or “yes…but” in order to protect your time and maintain focus on the right priorities. It also means carving out time for self-care to recharge your batteries. A leader, or a parent, who is over-worked, under-slept and stressed-out cannot be effective at their job…or truly present for the people who rely on them. Clearly communicating your priorities and boundaries to your team (and your family) helps to set the right expectations and enables you to deliver on the promises and commitments you make.
Before having children, I couldn’t fathom how I could possibly add more to my plate and be successful. Surprisingly, I have found that becoming a parent has actually been a positive forcing function to elevate my focus and broaden my capacity without sacrificing what matters most – prioritizing and investing in the future of my family AND doing the same for my team and clients.