Real Leaders

You Don’t Have to Choose Between Motherhood and Leadership

A lot of women who are rising in their careers worry they’ll have to choose between being a great mother and being a great employee, should they decide to have children. Many women think they need to achieve their career goals before motherhood, as they’re afraid they’ll plateau once they procreate. I know — I was one of them!

Rest assured, however, that not only can you keep growing and succeeding in your career once you become a mother, you will also be gaining new skills that make you an even better leader.

Skill 1: Efficiency 

Hands down, the most efficient people I’ve worked with are mothers. It makes sense: we’re motivated to get our work done and get home to spend some time with our families before the dinner-bath-bedtime chaos begins. To have a healthy work-life balance, extreme efficiency is vital. It also helps to work at a company that values productivity over face time, which I recommend regardless of parental status. 

Skill 2: Flexibility

Parenthood is unpredictable. You can prepare for how you want things to go, but you have to be ready to deviate from the plan and adapt. It all starts with childbirth: you go into it with your ideal strategy, do everything you can to stay on track, but also accept any detours along the way. Then come the sleep schedules, meals, and tantrums. You’re confronted with countless opportunities to prepare yourself for the best, try alternate strategies when your plans don’t work, and then finally “hack” a solution together with a popsicle and an iPad.

These same traits are necessary for a strong leader: the ability to set the stage for the ideal solution and then modify plans as needed, recognizing when you have to make trade-offs or change the course entirely.

Skill 3: Delegation

One of the most difficult challenges for me, both in moving up the management track at work and in raising my children, has been delegation. I’ll admit to having some control freak tendencies—my first instinct is to complete a task myself because I know the best way to get it done. But that often doesn’t yield the best results.

I’ve learned to let go of more by surrounding myself with great people who can help out. Letting my husband pick up more of the slack with our children gives them a great balance of both our parenting styles, as well as some super fun daddy time. (And, importantly, it saves my sanity.) At work, I hire amazing people I can trust to run with a problem and come up with great solutions, consulting with me, or filling me in as needed. 

Skill 4: Persuasiveness 

Great leaders motivate their teams and colleagues to make the right decisions and do great work without having to tell them what to do. Nothing can sharpen your persuasiveness skills like negotiating with your child! If you can succeed in getting young children to eat their dinner, go to bed, not pee on each other during every bath—skills I’m still working on—you’ll find that getting intelligent, rational adults motivated is far less daunting. 

Skill 5: Compassion 

Something changed in me when I had children: I suddenly felt much more compassionate toward people. In one sense, I started seeing everyone as someone else’s baby, and I’d think dorky thoughts like, “Her mom must be so proud of her for that,” or “Circumstances sure turned that sweet baby into a mess at some point along the way.”

I also think about the circumstances behind someone’s actions: Have they not slept at all this week? Are they dealing with the third stomach flu of the winter at home? I’ll admit that I’m still reasonably unforgiving of prolonged mediocrity, but I try to practice compassion and empathy, which I think makes me a better leader. 

No matter what you choose regarding motherhood—and there is no one right choice—know that you can continue to grow, thrive, and lead in your career once you become a mother.

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