Four things my Mother taught me about leadership

Why you should examine those close to you for inspiration

Leon Purton

A photo looking out over my Parents farm at Sunset that I took last Summer. We were very lucky to grow up here.

On this weekend just gone, I gave my Mother a call in the morning, it has become a bit of a ritual to remember all the things that your Mother has done for you and to make sure you tell them on Mother’s Day (great work all you Mother’s out there giving it your all, you are amazing). However, it got me thinking, so much of us comes from our childhood. The environment established by those important people in their lives, and many of us would say that there was one person who established or fostered that environment. Our Mother's… If you grew up in a household with some other form of parental figure who showed these attributes, then please replace Mother with that person, and know that they are as important on this special day.

I come from a small country town an I am the eldest of three brothers, we were on a small farm and caused all sorts of mischief ranging from slug guns to falling out of trees (but what a view). We challenged our Mother, but she taught us a great deal. So, here are 4 things that I think my Mother has taught me about leadership;

Great things come from a place of selflessness.

I can scarcely remember my Mother putting herself first. Perhaps a bath by herself with a book, or making us three boys pose for a photo for her wall — but not very often. She showed me the power of giving without obligation. Adam Grant revolutionised how we think about this type of behaviour in the book “Give and Take” (I’ve included a link to the Ted video below). Adam describes that those people who give, all the time, may not seem successful by some everyday measures. However, the data continues to show that the organisations with high numbers of givers are more successful (most people are ‘matchers’, they believe in give and take and that things all even out). Not only are the organisations more successful, but those people who are givers, in the long run, are the most successful — and the most happy.

My Mother didn’t have a lot to give, she fought hard for all that we had, but she still gave of herself and her time. She volunteered calling Bingo, she coached my under 8 football team, she fund-raised for the school, she spent countless nights at the hospital (with my brother) checking in on the other Mothers.

So, remember the power of being a giver, remember all the times you’ve seen those people who do it often, and how it fills you with a desire to try a little harder yourself. This can bring great things in our teams and organisations.

Don’t let your care limit accountability and growth

My Mum loved us very much, but if we did something wrong, we knew about it! Plenty of old school accountability mixed in with some more contemporary parenting theorems, but we knew the boundaries. I’m reminded of the time that I thought I’d see what happened if I started Dad’s Mini that was parked in the paddock. I think I was 9, and I didn’t really know how to work a gearbox and clutch, the car jumped across the paddock for a few meters and then it stalled. I new that I had breached some boundaries as my Mother chased me across the paddock 😊…. I also know that despite doing well during that Under 16 football match, or getting that A- in maths, that she would ask what I thought I could do better?

Leadership is most significantly about genuinely caring for your team, while challenging them to grow, and holding them accountable to the jointly agreed boundaries. Mothers are an embodiment of this, but we can all foster this in our organisation.

There is always something you can do

Looking after three boys and doing every thing you can to support the home and generate some additional income and opportunities for yourself is an extraordinary challenge. I’m reminded of all the times that my Mother pushed herself outside of her comfort zone and took on something else to generate some income or growth opportunities for herself. She was a cleaner, on office administrator, a Tai Chi instructor, a nursing home attendant, a drafts man's assistant, she cut wood and sold eggs, she did bake sales and picked carrots. She always found something, some way of making progress. She also demonstrated an incredible work ethic, something I was continuously in awe of, I was tired watching her. How could I slack off when I saw her doing so much, so consistently?

I realise that oftentimes it seems that we are not sure on the next thing we should or could do, we seem stuck for ideas and are not sure how to progress. However, if we spend a little time discussing or contemplating, there is always something we can do. Sometimes it is not about being efficient, it is just about being effective. Opportunity breeds opportunity, so just do the next thing, whatever it is, and see what happens. Always remember, that you’re being watched (not in a real creepy way), but your colleagues, your boss and your subordinates are all watching you just do the next thing. What is the one thing you can do to benefit your team and the organisation right now?

Even if it doesn’t seem that important– it should be celebrated.

Mothers are great at giving praise, even if it seems over the top. You got an A in English, lets have a cake. You got your stitches out, cake? You got you Learner’s license, lets head out for dinner and cake… You get the idea. Mothers are your first and greatest cheerleader, and are inordinately proud of what you achieve and do.

There is no reason we shouldn’t do the same for our peers and our teams. It doesn’t ‘have’ to be cake; it can be a sincere word in quiet, or ensuring the organisation knows who is deserving of praise, or a public award and acknowledgement, or cake 😉.

Celebrate little, celebrate often

You create a culture of success, through acknowledgement of successes — and the successes don’t need to be all encompassing and ground breaking, they just need to be relevant. You determine what is relevant to your team’s success. It could be as simple as celebrating that person speaking up to get the best information for a decision, or the quality of that document, or the effort put into that long planning meeting.

Celebrate often, success breeds success.

We all have that special someone who fostered these things in us, and there is nothing stopping us fostering it in those around us. Be it in your family and friends network, or at work. So give without reservation, be generous with your time and attention. Develop genuine care for your team, but make sure you challenge them. Always look for the next thing you can do, what is the one thing you can do right now to progress? Finally, look for opportunities to recognise success, celebrate your team and be purposeful about it.

If you have a mother to tell, let her know that I said thank you for allowing you to develop into the person you are, you are important to your organisation and you are important to those around you every day. If you do not have one to tell, know that I respect the journey you went on to get here and the role that special person played in getting you here.

Happy Mothers (and significant parental/carer figure) Day!

Love you Mum..

Stay safe and keep smiling



Adam Grant’s Ted talk on the power of Givers.

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