My mother wasn’t a businesswoman. In fact, she did not even graduate from high school. Given her lack of business acumen, one might think she didn’t have much to offer in terms of business wisdom. I beg to differ!
My mother was a fireball with great common sense. Her advice has served me well throughout both my professional and personal life and has been a guiding force behind my management style. Here are seven lessons I learned from mom that I apply every day in my role as a CEO of a national case management organization:
Mind your manners
Of course, courtesy always matters when working with customers, but it’s also essential for building a company culture that’s supportive and inclusive. Always take the time to assess every business situation, remaining above the fray and resisting the urge to pontificate on every point. Then, when you do offer your judgment, it’s well considered and authoritative.
Play nicely with others
Being collaborative isn’t just good manners – it’s also good business. Demonstrating how well you work with different personalities, quasi-competitive companies and even customers with divergent priorities shows that you’re an attentive partner. A “difficult to work with” reputation is nearly impossible to overcome and will cause future customers and employees to go elsewhere.
Call home more often
In business, it’s not always what you know, but who you know, so stay close to the people connected to your business. Work hard to stay in touch with employees, peers, clients and even vendors to foster healthy professional and personal relationships that could bolster your business. Remember that professional organization you joined? Go to the next meeting, conference or event to get back into networking.
Pick your battles
There’s no sense fighting just to be right. Consider which priorities are most important for your business and put strenuous effort behind achieving them. Remember, a great strategy is often choosing which good option not to pursue. Letting the little things “slide” will earn you the respect of your team, but it also will allow you to focus on what’s really important. It’s simply not worth the collateral damage to fight for insignificant victories.
This too shall pass
Nothing in business is insurmountable. Even the biggest perceived failures represent key learning opportunities for management as well as the rank-and-file. Empower your teams with an understanding that no mistake is too great that it should sidetrack your organization from its ultimate goal. Taking risks is a huge piece of what makes businesses successful, and you can’t be afraid to fail once in a while.
Practice makes perfect
As a corollary to “this too shall pass,” business success often comes from repetition and replication. Creating patterns of predictability – in business and in life – can allow leaders a clearer view of the big picture, becoming more knowledgeable and efficient in the process. Establishing a “muscle memory” for achieving the outcomes you expect can help you reproduce those results on a recurring basis.
If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything
Negativity is a momentum- and culture-killer for both internal and external business stakeholders. Addressing challenges head-on is productive, but over-emphasizing problems and inefficiencies to the point of eye rolling can turn off your customers and employees. If you must criticize, then make sure you do it tactfully and move on immediately by re-casting the discussion in terms of solutions, not problems.
I learn something new almost every day in my role, and I am often reminded of how my mom was right about so much – in business and in life. It’s clear to me that even the most well-worn leadership tropes and business management bestsellers can’t match the sensible wisdom mom gave me, and I share this insight with my fellow owners and employees every day.
It’s often said that women are difficult to figure out. Since I raised four boys, I consider myself fairly unqualified as an expert in the psychology of girls and young women.
However, now that I have been gifted with three granddaughters, I am learning a little more every day. What I see as I watch them grow is sometimes disconcerting.
I spent two weeks this summer with my granddaughters, ages 9 and 4, and noticed one dynamic immediately: these girls are competitive and spiteful to one another in ways that I never noticed with my boys. Unfortunately, that attitude carries through to the professional world as girls become powerful, influential women and seize leadership opportunities that have previously been unavailable to them.
Of course, a little competition between peers can be an excellent motivator and inspire high-quality work. But bickering, hyper-criticism and cutthroat pursuit of success do little to empower women in the workplace. These actions reinforce negative stereotypes of women as emotionally adversarial and self-serving professionals who will stop at nothing to get their way.
I don’t believe this issue is limited to my lovely granddaughters or even to girls specifically, but my experience is indicative of a larger trend among women in the workplace. Women tend to be critical of one another; elevating and exploiting flaws and weaknesses in order to gain a competitive edge.
Harvard psychologist and author Lynn Margolies explores this topic in her writing and suggests the competitive dynamic is a self-preservation mechanism underpinned by women’s deep distrust of the power of other women.
“Discomfort with their own power can make women alternate between inhibiting themselves to protect a female friend, and feeling mistrustful and helpless in the face of another woman’s perceived destructive power,” Margolies writes. “A good example of this is when whose husbands have had an affair blame the other woman more than they blame their spouse, holding the other woman more accountable — and seeing men as helpless in the grips of a desirable woman.”
I got my start in business by way of the nursing profession, an environment where there is much greater solidarity among women than in many other careers. This may be due to the care-driven nature of the work or the fact that nursing is a field dominated by women. That may also be why I have high expectations for camaraderie and teamwork between the women in my current workplace.
My own leadership style is rooted in empowerment and compassion. While I do have a competitive streak, I tend to view competition through a supportive and positive lens as a healthy team-building tool. Our entire staff is devoted to the people and companies we serve, but most importantly we are all devoted to each other and to our collective success.
Workers’ compensation is serious business, but we strive to bring an approachable, accessible personality to the process. Inspiring our entire staff — including the women on our leadership team — to collaborate, cooperate and demonstrate respect each day is a huge component of our culture and an incredible value to our clients.
Professional women must stop being their own worst enemies and begin embracing our fellow businesswomen’s strengths, celebrating their accomplishments and championing a culture of affirmative motivation, not competition for its own sake. As soon as we begin assuming positive intentions from each other, we’ll send an immediate message to our daughters and granddaughters that we don’t need to tear each other down to come out on top.