A red, wrinkled newborn blinked at the bright lights as he looked out at the world for the first time. A little whimper escaped his lips, but as he was placed in our arms, he immediately snuggled in contently there. It instantly felt as though we had always known him, and he had always known us. First, he looked at me. Then, my husband, Tony. Then back to me again, and I thought my heart would explode with joy.
I spoke to him in quiet tones. “Matt, Honey,” I gently cooed in a sing-song voice. “Do you know how much we love you? Do you know how glad we are that you are here?” We both stroked his soft skin and ran our fingers through his dark hair. He was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.
Looking back at that moment, I thought I knew what love was. I also thought I knew everything about being a mother and how to influence the growth of this tiny human being. But I was dead wrong on both counts. That little bundle, over time, changed the very meaning of life for me – and that was thirty-four years, three children, and four grandchildren ago. I didn’t realize then that being a mother would teach me more about leadership, love, and life than spending ten years as the CEO of a fast-growing global organization ever would.
If time permitted, I’d tell you the stories behind those lessons, like sitting next to Matt’s hospital bed the day he was mauled by a bear as a teenager and nearly killed. I’d tell you about concussions, losing a baby, broken backs, and broken hearts, and how having a disabled daughter changed my entire view of the world. I’d tell you of triumphs and tragedies, and let you feel the joy and wisdom gained from one of life’s finest leadership laboratories: being a parent.
While there are many morals to those stories, here are the most important lessons learned in what my dad used to call the School of Hard Knocks. You may or may not have graduated as a parent from this School, but consider which of these lessons resonate most with you, and what your own life experience has taught you about true leadership:
- Others become what you are – not what you tell them to do or be.
- If you build people first, they will build the very things that you most want to see.
- When others see the why and understand what is required, they will find their own best
- Listening, with a hearty dose of unconditional curiosity, trumps telling every time.
- You can’t command growth or performance; you can only create conditions for it to happen.
- Whatever you look for, you’ll get more of it.
- Remarkable results are always equal to the quality of the relationship that creates them.
- All people have something unique to contribute, but their value is never increased by giving it – only their feeling of being valuable is.
- When others feel valuable and valued, they will walk through walls for you.
- Pain, change, and challenge can quickly become character, confidence, and compassion through the mentorship of someone wise enough not to give the answers away.
You may have found some of these things to be true from your own life experience, along with another lesson that is as true as the ones shared here. This last lesson, in many ways, is the synthesis of them all and requires great patience to learn. It is simply this: the payday of true leadership is when others give away the very things that they have gained by knowing you.
For me, that moment came as I recently watched Matt with his own seven-year old son, who had just made a big mistake. I knew that Matt could have over-reacted, but I lovingly admired him as he carefully bit his tongue. He quietly led his sad son out of earshot, dropped down to one knee so he could be at eye level, and put an arm around his shoulder. Matt’s body language was open and warm, and it appeared that he was asking his son questions. I saw a transformation happen literally right before my eyes, as shame and tears turned to hope, and uncertainty turned to confidence. After a tender hug, a smiling little boy bounded back to the group willing to begin again.
It got me thinking. Maybe that’s all any of us need, someone to look into our eyes in a moment of uncertainty, ask nonjudgmental questions, and allow for the chance to find a new how out of the messes that are often self-created. Maybe when you’re looking for a leader, you’re really just looking for a mother or father-like figure who can help you be more of the person you were born to be. That’s all parenting is. That’s also the truest essence of real leadership.
Thanks, motherhood, for teaching me the most important lessons about being a leader.
Written by DeAnna Murphy – with Lisa Gregory, and Steve Jeffs, who lead the People Acuity Thought Leader team and are the authors of the book Shift Up! Strengths Strategies for Optimal Living. They are also the creators of a validated measurement tool evaluating Work Joy, Team Connection, Confident Vulnerability™ and Proactivity. Between them they have worked in nearly 80% of the Fortune 500 and Global1000 firms and collectively hold over one hundred certifications and international and national recognitions.