Everything I Need to Know As a CEO, I Learned As a Mom

Everything I need to know as a CEO, I learned as a mom. It’s always easier to see things in the rear view mirror than seeing them when you’re in the middle of it.

As a GenXer, I feel like I’m just now getting a handle on how to manage my work. Since my work includes being CEO of a 50 person business, I thought I’d share some lessons learned with my younger colleagues and try to simplify a job that seems very complicated on its face. In fact, the job of a CEO involves mastering the same skills we learn as moms. Maybe because I’m finally getting the hang of this job as my boys are now off to college, I can recognize the similarities.

Here’s a picture for you: juggling 10 things at once while receiving numerous requests from different people… and cutting through the noise to figure out the most important item that goes to the top of your priority list. Or how about figuring out who needs what to be happy and who’s fighting versus who’s getting along? Or, managing your budget and making sure you have a handle on what’s coming in versus what’s going out. Moms, sound familiar?

The ability to triage an enormous amount of information and quickly identify the highest priorities is a common skill between moms and CEOs. Another common skill is charting the path forward while supporting the personal success of everyone in the family… or your business.

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 eLearning 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 for a while.

Most of the leadership role models were men with very different life experiences than me, or women leaders who didn’t have children. My situation was quite different with two ADHD boys, fifteen 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 (summer’s were always hard) when I was working at home and on the phone with two male co-workers when 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. “Uhm.. 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 where the leader is a servant first and focused on the needs of others first before considering their own needs. The servant leadership model works well in today’s environment where employees have high expectations for a good employee experience and professional development.

4 “Mom” Tricks to Help with the Job

    1. Employee Engagement: Everyone needs at least one good friend at work to feel like they belong.
    2. Teamwork: it’s about teaching people to play nicely with each other and be inclusive, not exclusive.
    3. Prioritization and Goal Setting: As a mom, you learn early on that just keeping the kids alive is your #1 priority. Keep it simple and doable. If you get too ambitious, nothing will get done.
    4. Achieving Goals: Spend the time outlining what you want and ask people how they can achieve it. Weigh in if necessary and check in a few times to make sure everyone is on the right track.

Moms are often the hub of the family who keep all the plates spinning in the air while figuring out how to keep everyone happy and thriving. Being a CEO is similar. Unlike 10 or even 5 years ago, the business world is much more receptive to women CEOs and women business leaders in general because the skills many of us develop while raising our families are equally applicable to supporting a business.

I predict we’ll see many more women CEOs and executive business leaders in the future as women increasingly realize their unique skills and experiences are a good fit for leading a team and business.

March is Women’s History Month. Celebrate the mark that women have made in and out of the workplace by deploying our new microlesson: Celebrating Women Trailblazers.

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Janine Yancey
Business Compliance & Workplace Culture Expert
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