There’s plenty of talk these days about how we need more women in leadership roles, and I agree. But I would take it a step further and suggest that we need more mothers in leadership roles. I don’t think any of my education or experience has prepared me more to lead product development teams than the challenges and triumphs of motherhood. And many of the best leaders I know also share the title of Mom.
So many of the skills and experiences of motherhood can be leveraged in the workplace.
Lesson 1: Flexibility
Parenthood is unpredictable. You can prepare for how you want things to go, but you have to be ready to deviate from the plan and adapt. It all starts with childbirth: You go into it with your ideal plan, do everything you can to stay on track, but also accept any detours along the way. Then sleep schedules, meals, tantrums… You’re confronted with countless opportunities to prepare yourself for the best, try alternate strategies when your plans don’t work, and then finally “hack” a solution together with a popsicle and an iPad. These same traits are necessary in a strong leader: the ability to set the stage for the ideal solution and then modify plans as needed, recognizing when you have to make tradeoffs or change the course entirely.
Lesson 2: Persuasiveness
Great leaders can motivate their teams and colleagues to make good decisions and do great work without having to tell them what to do. Nothing can sharpen your persuasiveness skills like negotiating with a toddler! If you can succeed in getting young children to eat their dinner, go to bed, not pee on each other during every bath, etc. — skills that I am still working on — you’ll find that getting intelligent, rational adults motivated is far less daunting.
Lesson 3: Delegation
One of the most difficult challenges for me, both in moving up the management track at work and in raising my children, has been delegation. I’ll admit to having some control freak tendencies — my first instinct is to do a task myself because I think I know how I want it done. But, that often doesn’t yield the best results. I have learned to let go of more by surrounding myself with great people who can help out. Letting my husband pick up more of the slack with our children gives them a great balance of both our parenting styles, as well as some super fun daddy time (and, importantly, saves my own sanity). And I’ve adopted the Zillow philosophy of always trying to hire better than you to grow teams of people that I can trust to run with a problem and come up with great solutions, consulting me or filling me in as needed.
Lesson 4: Efficiency
Hands down, the most efficient people I have worked with are mothers (with the exception of my CEO, Spencer, who multitasks better than anyone I’ve met). It makes sense: We’re motivated to get our work done and get home to spend some time with our families before the dinner/bath/bedtime chaos begins. In order to have a healthy work-life balance, extreme efficiency is key. You also have to work at a company that values productivity over face time, which I recommend regardless of parental status.
Lesson 5: Compassion
Something changed in me when I had children: I suddenly felt much more compassionate toward people. In one sense, I started seeing everyone as someone else’s baby, and would think dorky thoughts like, “Her mom must be so proud of her for that,” or, “Circumstances sure turned that sweet little baby into a mess at some point along the way.” I also try to think about the circumstances behind someone’s actions: Have they not slept at all this week? Are they dealing with the third stomach flu of the winter at home? I’ll admit that I’m still fairly unforgiving of prolonged mediocrity, but I try to practice compassion and empathy, which I think makes me a better leader.
Top companies are finding that diversity in the workplace is the key to great results. Getting more mothers in leadership positions isn’t just fostering that diversity – it’s setting a company up for success.