Motherhood is the ultimate training ground for leadership.
For the past two years, I have been doing a master's degree in Organizational Leadership with an emphasis on servant leadership.
Servant leadership is defined as "the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first," with the best test of servant-leadership being, "Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants" (Greenleaf, 2002, p. 27)?
Who is better at serving first than a mom? Moms learn to serve even before their child is born. During pregnancy, Mom serves her child by default – her body will nourish the developing baby even if it means leaving the mother lacking. Mom also learns to serve by choice – learning to take care of her body to help the baby, planning for a successful birth, prepping her home and lifestyle to fit a new child, and in many other ways.
When a child is born, he or she needs constant care and nourishment. By default, mom is the nourishment. Continuous feeding, diaper changing, and soothing, although exhausting, provide the level of interaction that makes bonding nearly unavoidable. We learn to love those we serve.
As a child grows, moms get new opportunities to cultivate leadership skills at every turn. Some of the skills listed in my leadership books include listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community (Northouse, 2019, p. 229-230). I see moms embodying these traits all the time without even knowing it!
Listening: Moms listen to their young children all day, every day. Then when they become teenagers, moms must truly hone the skill of listening to hear what is not being said.
Empathy: Moms feel their children's pain and want to help.
Healing: Moms help heal their children by guiding them through challenging times. Moms also heal themselves through the process of parenthood. As women grow into motherhood, their perspective of their childhood, their own parents' experiences, and life, in general, expand and change.
Awareness: Moms have to be aware of everything that is going on – where each child is, what each child is responsible for, schoolwork, housework, meals, healthcare, education, deadlines, extracurricular, appropriate developmental stages, etc.
Do you see where I'm going with this? For every trait listed in my leadership books, mothers must or can create that skill through motherhood.
I want to bring awareness to moms that the skills they are cultivating through their calling as a mother are LEADERSHIP skills. Leadership skills are both "forced" upon mothers who care for their children and can be consciously created through the opportunities that present themselves in motherhood.
YOU, mom, are a LEADER. You are not "just a mom," as our socialization often tells us. You are a leader, and you can become a better leader through what you are doing daily. You can be the leader of your own life. You can create the vision and culture you want in your family. You can be a person worth following.
Additionally, all the skills you develop through motherhood are transferable. Whatever else you want to be involved in – PTA, coaching your child's sports team, being on the town recycling committee, running for office, starting a side hustle, going back to school, getting a job, etc.- the leadership abilities you gain through mothering apply!
Don't let the world tell you that you are "losing 20 years of experience". You are gaining invaluable leadership skills in a way that cannot be duplicated anywhere. As William Ross Wallace (1890) astutely titled his poem in praise of motherhood, "The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world."
Greenleaf, R.K. (2002). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Paulist Press.
Northouse, P.G. (2019). Leadership. Sage Publications.
Northrop, H.D (1890). Beautiful Gems of Thought and Sentiment. The Colins-Patten Co. (accessed at http://www.potw.org/archive/potw391.html)