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Notes From the Field as a Mother in Leadership

10 parenting tricks that also apply to the workplace

Back Article Mar 19, 2024 By Janine Yancey

This story is part of our March 2024 issue. To subscribe, click here.

Juggling 10 things at once while receiving numerous requests from different people and cutting through that noise to figure out what goes to the top of your priority list. Figuring out who needs what to be happy and flourish and who’s fighting versus who’s getting along. Managing your budget and making sure you have a handle on what’s coming in and what’s going out.

Sound familiar? 

If so, you’re a mom, a business leader or both. Recently, I’ve been thinking that being a mom teaches you everything you need to know about being a business leader. And given that my two boys are now off to college, it kind of makes sense that I finally feel like I’m figuring out how to be a good leader.

I started Emtrain, an education technology company, many years ago when my sons were 2 and 3 years old. Due to luck and timing, we were able to get a partnership with the California Chamber of Commerce just as corporate e-learning was taking off. Due to the CalChamber partnership, we quickly grew a small team, and I started learning leadership on the job without training or mentorship. Let’s just say it was a bit of a rough road for me and the people on my team.

Most of the leadership role models at that time were men with very different life experiences than me or women leaders who didn’t have children (or acted like they didn’t have children since they didn’t seem to juggle work with kids). My situation was quite different with two ADHD boys born 15 months apart. In those early years, I was constantly juggling kids with work, but with the added stress of putting up the facade that I was always focused on work and never distracted with family and two rambunctious boys. I’ll never forget one summer day (summers were always hard) when I was working at home, on the phone with two male co-workers, and my boys started fighting and yelling at each other. I calmly told my co-workers that I would be right back, and I put them on hold while I proceeded to yell at my kids and threaten their continued existence if they didn’t quiet down. I returned to my work call and an awkward silence. “Um … Janine … did you think you muted your call?” asked one brave co-worker. Ugh.

I’ve always been the family “sherpa” — guiding and making sure everyone had what they needed to be successful. Many women have these same strengths and experiences. It’s a classic servant leadership model that works well in today’s business environment where employees have high expectations for a good employee experience and professional development.

Along my leadership journey, I’ve also learned how to apply some “mom” tricks to the workplace:

1. Employee retention 

Everyone needs at least one good friend at work to be happy.

2. Employee development 

Identify the right path for each employee and help them chart the course to get there.

3. Teamwork 

It’s about teaching people to be inclusive and play nicely with each other.

4. Achieving goals 

Make your list and have team members cross off goals when achieved.

5. Prioritization

Cut through the noise and identify the single most important item that needs to get done.

6. Sharing 

Like kids, some workers would rather work alone and not collaborate with other team members. In our business, our client team often works in isolation rather than working cross-functionally with their peers in product and marketing. It’s my job to ensure team members work collaboratively, across functions.

7. Don’t play favorites

Every parent knows — you can’t play favorites. The same is true for leaders. Employees (and everyone else) want equality where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.

8. Listening

It’s surprising to think about how much of leadership is listening, not directing. Understanding a situation and how people feel in a situation takes active listening, which is one of the most important skills a leader can have.

9. Bonding time

Work is hard. In order to navigate tough situations, people need to develop trust and strong relationships. Those types of relationships only happen after spending time with each other in a setting that promotes bonding, like an office party or a retreat. 

10. Encouragement

Everyone (kids or employees) needs encouragement and the confidence that comes from knowing someone is opening a door for them and cheering them on.

Women’s leadership in 2024 is more authentic and powerful than ever. And unlike 20 or even 10 years ago, the business world is increasingly accepting of different leadership styles and strengths as women leaders guide and support their businesses, teams and employees along the path forward.  

(Photo courtesy of Janine Yancey)

A lawyer and HR leader, Janine Yancey founded Emtrain to provide an online learning solution to develop and measure employees’ skills in ethics, respect and inclusion, and give employers a scalable tool to proactively manage employee behaviors. Her vision of a skills-based, data-driven talent approach on culture topics has put her at the forefront of thought leadership on sexual harassment, bias, diversity and ethics issues. Janine is a sought-after speaker and has been published and interviewed in the mainstream media including Washington Post, USA Today, ABC, MSN, CNET, Bloomberg Business, TechCrunch and Startup Grind.

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