Learning from Our Mothers

What Great Leaders Learn About Communication From Moms

As people celebrate their mothers this week, most expressions of love and gratitude will be about family, sacrifice, and serving. Yet leaders also owe a great deal of respect to their moms for their model of how communication works in the marketplace. For parallels, consider these lessons learned at your mom’s knee:

Good Moms and Good Leaders Need to Be Both Demanding and Understanding

Good moms demand that you brush your teeth, eat nutritious food, and go to school. But they understand that not everyone loves Brussel sprouts.

Good leaders demand accurate reports, engaged meeting participants, and personal accountability. But they also understand that people make the occasional mistake and that they may be preoccupied with a personal problem that keeps them from participating fully in a meeting once in a while.

Good Moms and Good Leaders Need to Balance Directing and Asking

Moms know how to take charge: When someone in the family breaks a bone, moms manages to take charge and get them to the hospital.  When there’s a sibling dispute over favorite toys, Mom takes charge and settles the situation. Moms know how to probe for essential information to get to the bottom of a neighborhood bullying incident, to understand motivations of those involved, and to gain teacher and parent cooperation to stop it.

Good leaders strike the same balance. They have a solid sense of when to take charge and direct activities and operations versus when to take the time to ask staff for their input. They understand when to acknowledge their expertise and gain their cooperation rather than demand it.

Leaders ask questions to understand motivations. They arm themselves with knowledge about the origins of true conflict––how to resolve it, how to restore trust, and how to reward people for excellent work.

Good Moms and Good Leaders Must Know When to Persist and Desist

Good moms need to know when to keep battling for a cause they believe in––say, services for a special needs child—and when they’re banging their head against the proverbial brick wall. In that case, they teach their child to go around the obstacle rather than trying to push through it.

Likewise, good leaders must make the same decisions weekly. Do they keep communicating with the stubborn, but inept supplier who can’t meet a deadline? Or do they simply remove the supplier from the bidder list?

Go through or go around the obstacle? What’s the timeline and what’s the lesson worth?

Good Moms and Good Leaders Must Be Both Firm and Flexible

Good moms set rules and rewards. Break rules, and you’ll feel the consequences—from time-outs to lost privileges. But good moms also know that their child’s character is still forming, so they “feel your pain” in the punishment. Their compassion dictates patience and flexibility as you mature. And rewards? Well, those come personalized—from hugs, to praise, to family vacations.

Good leaders follow the same model: They set standards and demand that you meet them.  Yet they allow flexibility in your process to meet those standards, allowing you to grow your expertise and exercise your judgment. And the very best leaders recognize and reward those who excel.

Good Moms and Good Leaders Must Know When to Control and When to Let Go

Good moms know when to tell a fourteen-year-old she cannot go to a party—and when to let a five-year-old decide whether she wants vanilla or chocolate ice cream.

Good leaders have the same knack: They know when to tell a group what to do—versus when to simply try to influence them––by facilitating a discussion with guiding questions, by working behind the scenes with team leaders, by introducing them to key people with supporting opinions, by offering a strong persuasive case and evidence.

Both good moms and good leaders communicate well to develop those entrusted to them for a short time in the workplace. Appreciate a great boss.

And don’t forget to hug your mom this week!

For more thoughts on strategic leadership communication, pre-order Dianna’s new book: Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done (Berrett-Koehler, June 5).  Once you’re ordered click the image below to sign up for a complimentary bonus video series.