My mother is an amazing person, as I am sure yours is. I am certain I have no idea what she thinks about herself deep down in the secret place of her being that only she can visit. I can imagine many of the ways she views herself, because they coincide with roles she fills and acknowledges. She is a woman, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a friend, a cook, a calligrapher, a poet, a writer, an accountant, a manager, a supply chain expert, a planner, a gardener, a runner, a designer, a caregiver, a teacher, a nurse…and the list goes on.
A label my mother would probably not give herself is leader. However, looking back on growing up, I see impactful things my mother was and did. Really “leader” things.
My mother had a vision for me, and she communicated it often and in different ways. Sometimes that vision came in the form of things she didn’t want me to experience, but often it was showing me the incredible vastness of the world around me and telling me I could “fill in the blank.” I can’t remember ever thinking my current circumstances or capabilities controlled or contained me because my mother told me I could do whatever I put my mind and hands to. Not in an easy or empty, “You can be anything you want,” way, but rather, in a way that said, “If you are willing to work hard and accept the struggle, you can”.
My mother was an encourager, and she still is. When I post or speak and my mother reads or hears it, she sends me really embarrassing notes, emails, and texts that I absolutely love. In her heart and words, I am the most amazing and talented and special person in the universe. I know that she is biased and tends to be a little overstated, but I don’t care. It feels good to hear from someone I love that I did really good work. While she is a little overzealous at times, she is never insincere. She writes and says specifically how what I did impacted her and made her feel. Those words are always true.
My mother taught me that I was a valued member of a community and that I enjoyed the privilege of sharing in both the benefits and the responsibilities. Simon Sinek wrote a book titled Leaders Eat Last, and I’m glad he did, but he learned that from his mom. Moms always take the broken piece or messed up pancake. Moms put your snotty Kleenex back in their purse, hold your gum, and clean up when you are sick. Moms plan their day and week and life around your needs. My mom always shared herself by sacrificing herself to give to me.
My mother gave me room and opportunity to grow. There are thousands of examples, but maybe the best is the chemistry set I got for Christmas one year when I was still in single digits. It was complex and expensive and dangerous. It would have been easy to have not gotten it for me. It took a significant desire to see me expand my world and learn by trial and error to give me that gift. It took even more determination and love to let me keep the chemistry set after I set the garage on fire…the second time.
My mother was, and still is, intensely interested in what I am doing and what I care about. Having now raised a few kids of my own, I am well versed in how many questions a young person can ask and how many thoughts and theories they want to tell you about. My mom invested time (and resources) into the things I cared about. When I was young, we didn’t have Google, so if you wanted to learn something, you went to the library to get real books. No one will ever know how many trips my mom took to the local library so I could check out another stack of books. And I didn’t realize until much later that, unlike me, going to the library wasn’t her favorite thing to do.
My mother listens to me in a way that makes me feel I am respected as a person. She always has. As a parent, I am guilty of “listening” to my kids with one ear and a very small portion of my brain. That is not respectful of the other person, even if they are four and what they want to talk about is nonsense. To truly listen and hear another person gives them a voice and communicates respect. My mother taught me I was worth that and other people were worth my doing the same for them.
My mother gave me a safe place to learn and try and grow. I messed up a lot of stuff. My mother never ridiculed or belittled me. Instead, she would empathize with my disappointment at failure, then she would ask me what I was going to do next. She made it safe to fail, but she didn’t solve the problem for me. To the best of her ability, she also tried to keep me physically safe (though I was the biggest danger to myself) by putting boundaries in place that gave me room to fall without the height being enough to kill me. As I think about my mother then and now, I see a leader. She may not have a corporate title, and she certainly didn’t get paid enough (or at all), but she did the job just the same. It seems to me that we can learn a lot about our own leadership from our moms. We can use their example as we purpose to lead with vision, encouragement, generosity, care, self-sacrifice, respect, and love. Lead like a mother; it is The Kimray Way.