High stress. High stakes. A world of responsibility resting squarely on your shoulders. Long hours, few breaks. Sleepless nights. But worth it day after day because the rewards far outweigh the effort. When compared side-by-side, job descriptions for ‘business team leader’ and ‘mother’ are very similar. Both roles require agility, patience, active listening and flexibility.
So why do we allow ourselves to believe business leadership and motherhood cannot coexist?
I know from personal experience how profoundly motherhood has shaped me as a leader. And I believe that helping mothers identify the parallels between their two worlds – rather than the potential divides between them – can allow them to better hone their leadership skills and advance their professional careers.
Nine years ago, my life looked different than it does today. Though I had a job I loved and a bright future with a leading corporation, it became increasingly difficult to ignore the feeling that I was missing something. In 2009 I adopted my son, Eli, and my entire perspective on life and work shifted. Becoming a mother inspired me to switch gears in my career, and in joining an agency I found the flexibility my family needed. The transition to motherhood also helped me prioritize my time and effort, so I could find success and fulfillment at work and at home.
Being a business leader and a mom is definitely a balancing act, but it’s one that any woman can master with the right attitude and the right approach. I offer these three lessons to women looking to include motherhood in their leadership stories:
Lesson 1: Share the work
You’ve heard this one, I know: it takes a village to raise a child. That saying never seems to go out of style, because it continues to be true. Women today face tremendous pressure to do it all and to do it all themselves — whether it’s planning a Pinterest-perfect birthday party or being at the helm of a burgeoning corporation.
Asking for help was one of the most difficult things for me as a new mom. I wanted to feel as natural and confident being a mother as I’d felt leading my team at work, but I quickly discovered it was all harder than it looked, and I couldn’t do it all myself. The only way to create the best life for my son was to rise above my own vulnerability and ask for help. We were surrounded by family and friends who cared about us and letting them fill in from time to time meant everything when it came to finding balance for me and for Eli.
My Challenge to You: Think about things you can let go of — whether it’s running errands, doing school pickups, running meetings, or compiling business reports and strategic plans. Then, make a list of dependable people in your circle you can ask to help. And most importantly, reciprocate whenever possible to keep your network of support strong.
Lesson 2: Be Where Your Feet Are
I remember this like it was yesterday. We were at home and I was supposed to be watching a movie with Eli but was, instead, preoccupied with work on my computer. At the time, I thought I was a smart, multi-tasking mama and that he probably didn’t even notice what I was doing, but eventually, his little hand reached over and slowly closed my laptop. It was a fleeting but powerful moment, and it really clicked for me: My time with my son needed to be focused on him.
Boundaries are the key to truly getting the most out of both your work life and your mom life. You may think you’re multitasking but sometimes, when you try to do too many things at once you end up doing none of them well. When I meet with team members or clients, I try to be 100 percent present and truly listening in our time together. Being conscious of what your hands are working on AND what your mind is focused on, will help you maximize the 24 short hours we each get every day.
My Challenge to You: Set boundaries. Channel all of your attention and energy into your career during work hours, then focus on your family when you’re off the clock.
Lesson 3: Have the Courage to Take Important Risks
Nine years ago, I felt the tap on my shoulder and the voice in my ear encouraging me to take what many would call a big risk. Adopting Eli meant not only a big change in my personal life, but I knew it would mean change for my career. Looking back now with nine years of motherhood under my belt, I know it was only the first of many courageous steps I would take on this new path.
Choosing motherhood is about having the courage to take risks. Each new stage of childhood brings a new crop of the unknown and while most moms aren’t thrilled to admit it – we don’t have all the answers! Leading a business can feel like that, too. As leaders we gather input from our teams and compile all available information as we face big challenges, but the reality is that our decisions still involve risk and leading our teams through those decisions takes courage.
My Challenge to You: Trust yourself to be brave when it counts. As a mother and as a leader, know there will be many times you won’t have all the answers before you’ll need to move forward. Have the courage to take that risk.
In a world that often allows women to think they must choose between a career in leadership and a fulfilling role as a mother, I proudly share my story as encouragement to women on my team and beyond. For all you mothers and non-mothers alike, follow your heart and challenge your thinking. Don’t limit yourself by others’ expectations. You will be amazed at your womanly power and strength. I want to challenge women to stay focused on their goals, learn from their peers, and carve their own path through the land of work/life balance.
March 8, 2018 is International Women's Day. Today Mitchell joins individuals and organizations around the world to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. #IWD2018