Celebrating Mother’s Day: Here are 12 Great Business Lessons from Mothers

“Our moms are often our first leaders, and you are setting the standard for your children now,” said Micheline Nader, founder and CEO of Blue Dolphin Real Estate, which specialized in acquiring and managing nursing homes, and author of The Dolphin’s Dance: Discover Your True Self Through a 5-Step Journey Into Conscious Awareness. “Inevitably, you have to make the same tough choices and hard decisions as a mom that you do as a manager or CEO.”

Here are 12 business lessons that business leaders have learned from the laudable pursuit of mothering that they have applied to running their companies:

1. Embrace your abilities as leader. Nader believes that CEOs should agree with and adapt the notion that “our mom did the best she could to support our life’s program” even though she didn’t make all the right decisions. Recognize your many skills as leadership skills. “Embrace your role and honor it in any scenario.”

2. Apply tender loving care to your business. “People say they ‘raised’ a family yet ‘built’ a business,” noted Shay Hughes Marino, a San Diego real estate company. “Raising a successful family, however, isn’t all that different from raising a successful company. Both require a tremendous amount of love, devotion and time” and benefit from “a healthy dose of family values and family rituals.”

3. Know your own opinion first before valuing others’ opinions. Just as you teach your kids, so it is in business: It’s not that what other people think doesn’t matter, but that you have to know what you think first. Then “you’re in a good place to factor input and feedback from others because you’ve got your own point-of-view against which to weigh them,” advised Veronica Fielding, CEO of Princeton, NJ-based Digital Brand Expressions.

4. Focus on the task at hand; you’ll make better progress. As an entrepreneur whose business idea came from being a mother, Shazi Visram could apply lessons right away to her founding of Happy Family Brands, a New York-based maker of organic baby food that was acquired by Danone. “Compartmentalize and focus on the task at hand,” she said. “Being a working mom makes you value every minute you have, so instead of chit-chat, get to the point of whatever you’re dealing with so you can make the most of your day.”

5. Teach your employees to fish. As a mother of two daughters, her end goal was to raise them to become capable, self-reliant adults, said Carol O’Kelley, CEO of Salesfusion. “The same applies to developing team members—it’s important to take the time to develop the skills that will help the individual, and, therefore, the organization succeed in the long term.”

6. Encourage individual creativity and the mantra that ‘there is no bad idea’. “Each time one of my daughters shares a burgeoning idea with someone else, she makes herself vulnerable,” O’Kelley observed. “When employees share their ideas or suggestions with an executive, they are doing the same thing. The fastest way to stop people from contributing is to crush their input.”

7. Have your employees’ backs. Yet another gem from O’Kelley: “Organizations, just like families, go further faster when individuals work together. There is a special confidence that comes from knowing you aren’t going it alone, and you are surrounded by people ready to pick you up and keep you moving forward—and that you’re ready to do the same for them.”

8. Excel at multi-tasking. Mothers are pros in this regard. “Let’s face it—you can’t be in two places at the same time,” said Jo Trizilia, CEO of TrizCom PR. “But multi-tasking is a necessity. I can be in the car-pool lane on a conference call. I can return emails while at her ice-skating practice. I can get summer camps booked during lunch time.”

9. Treat mistakes as learning opportunities. As Sandy Jen has observed, “No one is perfect even though we strive to be.” Thus, said the co-founder of Honor, a company dedicated to helping older adults age at home, “as a leader in your company, it’s often daunting when you feel like you have to have all the answers.” But “part of being a great leader and a great mom is being OK with making mistakes,” then learning from them.

10. Roll with the punches. Jen’s further advice: “Stuff happens, and you have to roll with the punches. If you stress out over every little thing, you’re going to burn out.” At your company, emphasize that business, just like motherhood, is “a marathon, not a sprint. You’re going to have a bad revenue day on the same day your newborn decides to poop all over your work clothes. Laugh it off and move on!”

11. Rise to your capacity. It can be overwhelming to handle all aspects of running a company, Jen acknowledged, but “you can handle a lot more than you think.” Raising a child helps business leaders understand this truth, which they can apply to all aspects of running a company. “Celebrate small wins; treasure the big ones; and smile at the fact that you’re way more capable than you might think!”

Own your failures, then shake them off. “There’s no substitute for hard work,” said Michael Lastoria, CEO of  &pizza, a fast-casual restaurant in Washington, D.C. “Stand on your own two feet; accept responsibility and be accountable for your actions. If you are going to take punches, do it for a cause greater than yourself. Remain untouched by events that would flatten another person. Allow your staff to thrive, and your company will thrive.”

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Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.

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