Why Moms Make Better Bosses

By Liz Wiseman
Originally Posted on fortune.com
May 14th, 2017

A senior executive I worked with confessed one of his hiring secrets to me: When it came to the key management jobs on his team, he almost exclusively hired parents. He claimed, “They tend to have a certain wisdom you gain by raising children.”

While parenting certainly isn’t the only way to gain management wisdom, his observation has merit. In my research studying the best business managers, I, too, have noticed an interesting crossover—their leadership profile is remarkably similar to that of great parents: Both set high expectations, offer stretch challenges, and give people space to think and act independently, but still hold others accountable. Of course, the opposite holds true, as well: The worst leaders (both at work and at home) either coddle people or operate through fear, blame, manipulation, and micromanagement.

These similarities exist because parenthood is perhaps the purest form of leadership. After all, you can’t fire your kids, and they don’t “report” to you. Once they can escape the crib or outrun you, it’s difficult to compel them to compliance. Rather, they must voluntarily follow your lead. This requires parents to exert influence while exercising control sparingly.

Last week, Hilarie Koplow-McAdams, a tech industry executive with 30 years of experience, told me, “My leadership perspective shifted after having children. Asking my kids to do something in an exacting manner and in a way they don’t understand is a recipe for disappointment on both sides. I realized that the folks I work with were much the same. I’ve learned to frame problems and initiatives rather than dictating answers.” In complex, fast-moving environments, no one person can have all of the answers. The best leaders don’t tell people what to do; they ask the right questions—questions that focus energy and intelligence.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 70% of women with children under 18 participate in the workforce. The majority of this population feels the symbiosis in these roles: 64% report that work not only enhances their parenting skills, but also that being a parent enhances their work. Here are three ways working mothers make great corporate managers:

Separating the signal from the noise
To maintain a semblance of sanity, mothers learn to distinguish a true crisis from mere chaos. You quickly realize that if it isn’t bleeding, broken, or burning, it’s probably not a crisis. For working mothers, this fierce focus gets applied to work as well. The heavy load they carry in both domains requires them to ignore much of the daily friction (and occasional adult tantrums), and focus solely on burning issues and top priorities.

With two children and a job as the president of global strategy at talent consulting firm BTS USA, Jessica Parisi can’t afford to waste time, especially in unproductive meetings, the bane of most managers. Last week, she told me, “I design strategic conversations to be thorough, but succinct. I make sure we gather data in advance, so we can have a healthy debate once we’re all assembled.” But, it’s not just Parisi who appreciates the efficiency—the entire business benefits from more productive, data-driven decisions.

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