Four Leadership Lessons from Mom

When I reflect on what my mother means to me there is simply no shortage of lessons. But growing up I could not have understood how relevant and important they are to my business success. I got an MBA in leadership from the university of mom. These are four timeless lessons that had the most impact on my success.

1. Lies are temporary but the truth is forever.

In our house lying may have been the worst thing anyone could do. Being caught in a lie meant some serious punishment was coming so I learned to fear the consequences of a lie to the point where the thought of telling one gives me a panic attack.

There is a big difference between keeping quiet to avoid a confrontation or hurting someone’s feelings, and lying. So, I don’t speak every thought that crosses my mind. But I answer questions honestly even when the answer leads to uncomfortable situations.

Being caught in a lie instantly destroys one’s credibility and there is not a single business advantage to be gained that is worth more than one’s personal creditability. It has always been a mystery to me how very few people understand this. Perhaps their egos lead them to think they are smart enough to keep a lie under wraps. But sooner or later the truth always comes out and in most cases the lie is a larger problem than what was lied about. Once you have been labeled a liar your ability to truly influence people is over.

2. Show up for work predictably.

There is nothing like working for hourly wages, instead of a salary, to keep you at work every day. But past that, I believe mom felt a genuine sense of obligation to her employers. The people she worked for could count on her to show up and get the job done.

It doesn’t matter how intelligent or creative you are if you are nowhere to be found when there is work to be done. I could not count the number of talented people I have worked with over the years who have lost opportunities to succeed because they did not have the discipline to get to work and stay with their tasks until done. We all have families and personal issues and there are certainly times when we have to stop and deal with them. But the people who do best are best at compartmentalizing those items so they can get some work done.

3. The key to success in life is keeping your act together.

I would use a word other than ‘act’, but my mother may read this.

My mom knows basic arithmetic and you only need this to manage a budget. She taught me to hang on to my money, spend it wisely and keep some around for emergencies. She also understands the value of genuine friendships, charity, forgiveness, and trust. And she knows a con when she sees it. On a modest income, she kept a family together and I can never recall a time when we went without anything essential to our wellbeing.

Mom has basic leadership skills that are often painfully absent in many with MBAs. She addresses problems immediately when they arise in an honest and direct manner. She helps those in need and forgives transgressions easily. In short, she keeps it together by avoiding problems when she can, getting to the essence of a problem when it arises, and then moving on. Self-pity and lingering over a loss are just not part of her character.

She taught me to manage my affairs closely, accept the inevitable loses, and most of all keep trying. It is trendy these days to call this grit. To my mom, it is just life.

As a lesson in success, if your life is out of control, you are not likely to succeed at work either.

4. Respect everyone, always.

Mom was raised in the segregated south but I can’t recall a single instance when she disrespected or demeaned a person of any race or for any other reason. Her community, religion, and basic humanity led her to respect the rights and dignity of everyone she met. This was manifested in simple manners; please and thank you, yes sir and no mam. It also took the form of helping those in need.

When careers are started, subordinate positions usually demand we mind our place. But as we progress many of us abandon that basic respect for others, typically those we outrank in some way. This hurts business in numerable and often unseen ways. By instilling a keen sense of gratitude, respect for all honest work, and simple good manners, my mom helped me become more likable, trustworthy, and productive. For the time it takes to sincerely deliver a complement, say please, or smile, one can get the benefits of great working relationships that produce stellar results at the bottom line.

Taking it forward.

We learn much of what we need to succeed at home. We tend to thank mom on Mother’s Day. But perhaps the next time we have a business success we should pick up the phone, call mom, and say thanks. I’ll be calling mine.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom.

Jeff Adair is a business and executive coach.

Copyright 2017, Jeff Adair Coaching