Things My Mother Taught Me


A reflection on Mothers Day of the leadership lessons taught by mine

Author’s photo: Parents farm at sunset.

I didn’t realise you noticed all that” is the comment my mother made when I shared a post on Medium about Mother’s Day this time last year. It was my first ever post on Medium, a platform chosen because I believed the message should be available to more than those on my weekly work email.

In honour of that, I’ve celebrated a year on Medium with an update — and some cake!

Mother’s Day is a day where people celebrate and reflect on all the things their mother has done for them. One day simply isn’t enough, but you should take this one day to celebrate the significant parental figure in your life and all that they have done.

My mother taught me many things, and although crocheting hasn’t come in handy (yet), there are plenty of things that have. Since I have been investing more energy in understanding leadership, I’ve noticed that my mother taught me plenty about this too. These were perhaps the most valuable of lessons.


Author’s photo: My Mother deserved a ribbon every day for putting up with the three of us. She was also Miss Show Girl 1978!

I come from a small country town in rural Tasmania, and I am the eldest of three brothers. We spent the bulk of our childhood on a 10-acre farm and caused all sorts of mischief roaming the paddocks and surrounding areas. It was a special place to grow up. The sunsets in Summer are amazing.

Through a rambunctious childhood, we challenged our mother, but she taught us a great deal. Here are four things that my mother has taught me about leadership.


1. The greatest 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 my brothers and I 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).

In it, Adam describes that the most successful people in the long run, are those who are givers. While most people fit in the ‘matchers’ category, feeling that if they give a little, they will get something back in return. My mother definitely fits in the Givers category.

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 to call 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 to our teams and organisations.

My mother did this for me, she gave of herself and her time so that others around her began to follow her example. I was one of them.

Author’s photo: Here is one such photo for the wall. The three brothers.

2. Don’t let your care limit accountability and growth

I knew my mother loved us all very much, but if we did something wrong, we knew about it! We came from the time of old school accountability mixed in with some more contemporary parenting theorems, but through all this, we were all sure of 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 knew 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 representative football match, or getting that B+ 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. Then holding them accountable to agreed boundaries.

Mothers are an embodiment of this dichotomy.

As a leader or a member of the team, we can all foster this in our organisation.

Author’s photo: It’s hard to keep all three brothers happy.

3. There is always something you can do

Looking after three boys while doing everything you can to support the home, generate some additional income, and create 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 draftsman’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. It is easy to get tired just 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 with our peers and team, there is always something we can do. Oftentimes 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. Your colleagues, your boss, your subordinates — and most importantly, your children — are all watching you. So, just do the next thing.

Think about the one thing you can do to benefit your team and the organisation right now. Then, do that.

Author’s photo: I’m on a horse!

4. 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, let’s 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.

You create a culture of success, through acknowledgement of successes

The successes don’t need to be all-encompassing and groundbreaking, 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 improving the quality of that document or the effort put into that long planning meeting.

Acknowledge hard work and effort often, success breeds success.

Author’s photo: The keen-eyed amongst you may note 18 candles. A famous sponge to celebrate the occasion.

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. There are four simple things you can do.

  1. Give without reservation, be generous with your time and attention.
  2. Develop genuine care for your team, but make sure you challenge them.
  3. Always look for the next thing you can do, find the one thing you can do right now to progress.
  4. Finally, look for opportunities to recognise success, celebrate your team and be purposeful about it.

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

Love you Mum.

Stay safe and keep smiling

Leon


Adam Grant on TED

Inspired by life. Leadership, Growth, Personal Development. Engineer and Sports Enthusiast. Top Writer in Leadership. You can find me at leonpurton.com.

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