Lead Like a Parent: Five Lessons

October 11, 2019

Lead Like a Parent

I was recently invited to sit on a "Mom Bosses" panel at Advertising Week to explore an important topic many of us tackle everyday: being a parent and being a leader. One critical thing I have learned from both of these roles is that being a parent has actually taught me how to be a better leader.

That’s not to say it’s not a lot to juggle. It is. As one of the many LinkedIn members who are working mothers—not to mention being a parent working for LinkedIn—I know what it’s like to juggle the priorities of family and work.

While this juggling act requires a lot of work, it also helps parents—and employers—in several ways. Here are the top five lessons I’ve learned:

Lesson 1: Set—and encourage—new norms

A lot of people talk about societal norms for men and women when it comes to parental roles. According to a May 2019 Pew Research study, 77% of the public say women face a lot of pressure to be an involved parent, while only 56% say the same about men.

While company policies can reinforce or challenge these perceptions, it also needs to start within the household. For example, my husband and I don’t think of our roles in gender-specific ways, but rather what is needed in our household. So whether it’s being the primary breadwinner or doing the dishes, managing the finances or picking up the kids at school, we figure out who is going to do what based on what makes the most sense—rather than what society expects of us.

Part of changing societal norms is having the courage to bring ideas to work, inspiring others to embrace them as part of a family-friendly work culture and to then cascade that down to the whole company. I love LinkedIn’s Family First culture. I have the flexibility to do things like work from home when needed, or leave early to go see one of my son Sami's plays. But ultimately, my first step is to lead by example so my team feels encouraged and comfortable to do the same.

Lesson 2: Embrace fluidity in your day

The way parents integrate work and family priorities has evolved. The idea of one block of time per day for work and one for family is becoming a thing of the past. I read this article recently about this concept of the ‘third shift.’ After doing a full day at work (the first shift) and a full night at home getting the kids fed, bathed and in bed (the second shift), the third ‘shift’ begins. This is the planning aspects of the household, and includes things like scheduling dentist appointments, play dates, and birthday parties (hosting or attending!).

This is funny to me, because I believe our day as parents is far more than just three shifts! And what are shifts, really? My day is fluid. There is not start and end, they all blend together. For example, when I’m traveling, I make it a point to FaceTime Sami daily. There are some school performances I had to physically miss due to work travel, but my husband FaceTimes me in, so I am still there and my son knows I am there.

Lesson 3: Use those incredible parent skills

Being a parent also develops your emotional skills. According to organization psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, “There are decades of systematic research as to what good leaders look like. They are, on average, more competent, more humble, more self-aware, more coachable, they have better people skills, and they have more integrity.” These are the same qualities that parents have to apply with their children as well!

Being a master at prioritizing is just one of the skills parents and leaders bring to the table. And the key to managing priorities is a flexible mindset. One thing I encourage of my team is to ruthlessly prioritize, and to focus on what will deliver maximum impact. Prioritization isn’t just for work, it is also for home. For example, I may not be able to be the class mom because I don’t have the time, but I will make Sami a handmade poster at the beginning and end of every single school year.

Lesson 4: Talk to your child about your work

Let them know why you work, show them what you do,  tell them how you do it and why you do it. Bring them to work so they can see what you actually do at work. (And prepare to smile when you hear them tell others what you do!) Share your successes and your learnings. You are always setting an example for them. Sami is proud of me, but he is also learning life lessons by watching me work. He also is learning that there are no such thing as gender roles because he sees my husband and me equally active in his life—just in different ways based on what we are able to do.

If being a parent has made me a better leader, working at LinkedIn has allowed me to be a better parent. And doesn’t that make for a better world?

Lesson 5: Remember you matter

It’s ok. Take time for you. Sleep, Rest. Enjoy your favorite guilty pleasure on Netflix. Pursue a passion of yours that you have backlogged. Resting your mind allows you to be a better leader and parent. Nurturing your soul, mind and body allows you to be more present in everything you do. Your mental and emotional health directly drives higher productivity. When you get enough rest, you make better decisions, your memory improves and keeps you from burning out.

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