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What being a parent teaches me about work
The inseparable duality and the perspective it brings
I have been a parent for almost ten years and in the working world for almost 20 years - growing through phases of finding my calling, developing my craft, becoming a leader, and building my brand with an overlay of a parenting journey.
And while parenting and leadership may seem like two entirely different realms, beneath the surface, they share a wealth of commonalities. Both require a delicate balance of guidance, support, and the ability to inspire growth. As a parent and a leader, I've come to realize that these roles aren't as distinct as they might first appear. One of the things one of my female co-workers once said to me was:
I love that you are a mom and a working ambitious professional. You talk about it what it takes to do both and how lessons apply both ways.
I became a manager after I became a mother, and over the years being a leader at work has shaped me as a parent and vice versa. I wouldn’t have it any other way and this week I’m reflecting on how intertwined my identity is. My parenting approach is the ying to the yang of my leadership at work.
Before I get into the parallels, I want to call out an important distinction - I do not subscribe to the philosophy that my co-workers are my family. Instead, I do think of my colleagues akin to how I’d think about sports teammates. And to the extent that sometimes as a family, we are also competing or showing up as a team, there is some overlap.
So I hope to continue normalizing how being a mom helps me be a better leader and vice versa and not pretend that these parts are disconnected. So let’s dig into some of my learnings over the years.
I lead with authentic empathy
In the professional world, I am constantly reminded that I don’t know the shoes someone else is walking in. Whether it is an ailing parent or a complicated relationship with authority - through lots of curiosity, I pride myself on understanding and seeing people as a whole.
The line I often come back to at work and at home is
“I can’t imagine how hard that' person’s life is right now.”
This fundamental assumption shapes how I approach problems and people relationships and is a core tool in establishing my brand of leading with inclusion and empathy.
At home, Adam and I spend a lot of time figuring out which open-ended questions will get our kids to actually tell us what is happening in school and with their friends. I have learned about poppet trading drama at school as well as the latest trials in gaga ball games.
In both parenting and leadership, deep empathy is a fundamental trait that enables me to connect with my kids and team members, helps me understand their needs, and creates a positive and productive environment. It not only improves communication and our dynamics but also contributes to higher levels of happiness, productivity and success at work and at home.
I set clear expectations and make clean agreements
In the first few days of school, my daughter left her sweatshirt at school. I asked her to please check with her teacher and then lost and found to see where this was. She non-commitally said that she’ll try. I clarified with her that I expect her to do this and she adjusted her phrase that she will take these steps and find her missing item.
In both parenting and leadership, setting clear expectations is key. Just as my child benefits from knowing what success looks like from their commitment, a team thrives when they have a clear understanding of their goals and responsibilities. It lays the foundation for a harmonious and productive environment. At work, I am known as someone who is very clear about what I will and will not do; what we agreed to, and where there is still work to be done.
I am a problem solver and lead by example
When I think about what kind of leader I am known for, it is one who makes positive progress and produces results. I live that value at home as well.
An exercise we do at home when we need to clean up is a “pick 10” rule. We all pick up/put away 10 things around the house (or can be a specific room). I love this because it is an outcome focused activity vs. an activiity one (clean your room for 5 minutes).
My children learn more from what we do than what we say, and the same holds true for teams.Exemplifying outcome-based behaviors values and work ethic sets a powerful precedent. It fosters a culture of integrity and accountability. At home, it also creates an environment of solving problems as a team - which I also bring to work.
I am resilient and adaptive
What do re-orgs and parenting have in common? Everytime summer hits in our household, we have a mini re-org - when you have a different schedule every week with camps and travel, it brings on scheduling changes, calendars adjustments and an update to our rhythm of business. For that intense 10 week period, every week is hard and slightly unpredictable. Once fall hits, we restructure again and there is a steep curve to adapt to the new order but every week gets easier.
At work, my goal is to show up as unflappable and calm through the storms. Whether it is a change in strategy or resourcing, I strive to adapt to solve the latest and the biggest problem the organization needs help with. As a PM, that is the core job to be done - solve the right problems at the right time.
Both parenting and leadership require the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Flexibility in approach, especially in the face of unexpected challenges, allows for more effective problem-solving and the ability to navigate through uncertainties.
In my hardest moments at work, I remember that I survived two newborn phases and two labor and deliveries. The resiliency that parenting demands serves me well in the workplace (and no, shipping features is not the same as birthing babies).
I am an empowering leader
As kids are getting olrder, they own certain things that they need to do in our house. For example, our 9 year old packs her own swim bag. This means that I don’t touch her bag or help her with it because this is her job. She also packs it in a very different way than I would (in stages and not all the once). However, the important thing is that it gets done and she is in charge it.
Empowering my children to make decisions and learn from their experiences is akin to entrusting my team members with responsibilities. It fosters a sense of ownership, boosts confidence, and ultimately leads to greater autonomy and growth. My team solves problems very differently than I would - so as long as I paint clear success, I then step back and let the team figure out how to get there. As it turns out, there is more than one way to solve any problem and it doesn’t have to be my way.
I celebrate success - big and small
Cheering people on is a work in progress for me. At home what it looks like is celebrating hard work to earn a personal best swim time or an improvement on a spelling test. Adam and I reward paying attention and learning fun facts at the zoo or a museum with other fun experiences or small treats.
At work, I give praise privately as soon as possible and publicly as often as I can. I also pass on praise to teams and people who have earned it so that people feel seen. I remind myself that I most likely do not say thank you or send enough appreciation into the world - so booking time at the end of the week to send a couple of notes to people is a hack I try to use.
Acknowledging achievements, no matter how small, is vital in both parenting and leadership. Celebrating milestones, progress, and contributions boosts morale, fosters a positive environment, and reinforces a sense of accomplishment.
What I love about working at Guild, is that it does a great job supporting people to be their whole selves. I don’t feel like I have to check my “mom” persona at the door, which is great because as a human, I can’t compartmentalize being a parent and a leader. I think deeply about how lessons in one part of my life, apply to another. In fact, I plan to do a post soon on how managing a family is not too different than managing a product (basically my take on Emily Oster’s Family Firm).
If you are just joining us, here are the topics Adam and I write about:
Career - We are both leaders in the tech industry, so these are articles that reflect on the growth and intentionality with which we approach our careers
Product - Adam and I are also both product makers, so we write about important lessons for product managers from Taylor Swift’s lyrics as well as more serious topics of skill building, possible product manager futures, etc.
Parenting - We are both very active with our family life and our two girls. So if you are looking for the latest books and TV shows for kids, travel and back-to-school survival guides, or musings on mom guilt while traveling, check out this section