top of page

How being a working mother made me a better leader

A few weeks ago, I was asked to identify my “leadership style”. Having made my career in the corporate world, and having worked across multiple countries and cultures, I have managed various projects, but most importantly lead different teams. I have always questioned and reflected on my own leadership style, as to determine whether I was a being a good leader to my team. In my effort to actively improve as a leader, by reading, learning and keeping up to date through various training and seminars, I often looked back on the role models I have had in my own life - both women and men, who were true inspirations. Similarly, I have also had unpleasant experiences during my career, as I have also been led by poor managers. These negative experiences have been a blessing in disguise, as they have laid the foundation redirecting me away from what I did not want to become. What was my leadership style I thought? Was it “affiliative”? Was it “authoritative”? Was it “Laissez-Faire”. I was not sure until I heard respected author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek say that

Parenting is the Closest Thing to Leadership”.

Here it was, parenting was a leadership style, and it was mine. As a new mother, and as many of you might have experienced, I quickly realized that putting a baby to sleep can be quite a challenging activity at first. I read extensively on the subject, asked my close friends and family, and followed their advice and counsel for weeks, even months: “Bath, Milk, Song…. Sleep”. Unfortunately for me, that routine never worked out too well for my firstborn, and I felt like a lousy mother for a while. It did work wonderfully for my second daughter, however. My children have very different personalities, they are different individuals. One will just doze off quite sensibly around 8.30 pm every single evening, while the other has bursts of creative energy and an increased need to express it during the late hours of the evening. Looking back, I realized that this is a no brainer. Individuals will be individuals. As I adapt my parenting style to the personalities of my children, I would do the same with the people I lead in my team. There is no “one size fits all rule”. Some people need to be challenged, some people need a creative space to flourish, some need more direction to feel confident. It takes a while and some trial and error to find what works for each person.

Still, there is one common “element” that I apply to all my children and to all my teammates. It is love. How does this translate practically in the workplace? Hug and kisses for all? No. However, I make sure that I see them, hear them, and value each of them. A person in your team might be an experienced and skilful employee, a diamond in the rough, or even a creative force that needs some direction. Whatever the case may be, I always chose to see the potential of my teammates and what they can bring to the table. I create the space for them to express themselves. Too many times, I have seen managers dwarf their team’s creativity. voicing their opinion first, overshadowing all else that may be contrary to what the “boss” has said. If a team is only going to be as good as its leader is, then that is a handicap. Hearing the opinion and ideas of your team members, challenges them and brings everybody together as a team. It is key to producing qualitative work.

As a mother, I am also an educator too. Children are in awe of the world and ask tens of questions a day, usually starting with “why”. I have had managers who never explained the “why” behind any given project. The consequences were results that often missed the mark. Both as a mother and as a manager, I try to give as much background as I can, giving the reason behind any given task, giving purpose, which often makes both children and grown-ups more willing to embrace the task at hand. Beyond explaining I empower too… When my older child asks me to help her draw a lion. I show her a few tips, but I also put her in front of videos, pictures of real lions, and illustrations. I want her to cultivate her own drawing skills, and not to simply copy paste what her mother can do. If I simply “know better”, as a mother or as a leader, again I would limit the creativity and the potential of my children or of my teammates. I explain, I empower, and I empathize…

I have had many managers who have stated that personal issues must be left outside the office. In theory absolutely, but in practice, this does not always work. We are emotional beings, going through this journey we call life. We all carry some baggage, and we all have some degree of personal drama going on. I have found that when I empathize and give room for my teammates to unpack their insecurities, the issues they are going through, while I offer another perspective, I often help them to get a better and renewed focus on their job. For me, this is very similar with giving my undivided attention to my children. When I let them express whatever they are feeling, they are often more receptive to comply and carry out any chores or tasks I need them to do.

Finally, I believe in discipline. As a parent, if my children mess up, I am accountable for them. This similarly applies to my team as a leader. Yes, I support them, I listen to them, I give them direction, I express my confidence and I empower each person in my team. Despite that, if you mess up, then there will be negative consequences. “a time-out” for my daughters, and the equivalent of time-out for my team members. As a leader, I am giving, but I can just as easily take away - as nobody messes with mommy!

The so-called “parenting” leadership style has been working great for me. I have seen individuals thrive under my supervision, as they feel valued and properly mentored. In turn, they give me their loyalty but also their creative initiative.

Too often, women are not given the opportunity to access their peers or give their opinion on a senior management level, this is even less so for women who are mothers. As of 2019, women are about half of the EU’s employed workforce and yet we are just 18% of the senior executives.

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned workplaces upside down, with many employees assigned to work from home, facing the new challenge of balancing their work and personal life. In the USA, following the spread of COVID-19, more than 1 in 4 women are either contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce entirely. We must raise the alarm, as this means companies being at risk of losing women in leadership and future women leaders which would take a toll toward gender diversity. Current leaders must rethink the workplace, creating a more flexible and empathetic culture. This does not mean sacrificing productivity, this means working more efficiently while everyone can thrive and bring their best to work.

By guest writer Celine Cabannes

Photo: Unsplash (Benjamin Manley)


bottom of page