By Vivienne Damatan
If I’m being honest, my transition into parenthood was a rough one. When I had my daughter, I was the VP of sales at a growing tech startup and everything was going really well. Through a lot of focus and consistent effort, I had invested in building an internal culture of caring for employees beyond “the work,” and had earned a reputation in the wider community of doing good business beyond mere transactions. I was incredibly proud of what I had a hand in creating.
It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but as a part of the leadership team, I was accustomed to people listening when I said something. I was never one to wield my title heavily, but if I asked someone to do something relatively reasonable, they would generally do it. I was also used to working with clients to understand their pains and craft solutions together. It was all very civilized.
I was a self-proclaimed high-achiever. And proud of it. I was able to drive results for my company and I fully expected that professional success to follow me right on into parenthood.
And then I had a baby. And she didn’t care at all that in my professional world people respected me and listened when I said things. She was completely unfazed by my long list of accomplishments and my track record of success. She had zero concern that I had planned on transitioning into parenthood with the magical ease of Mary Poppins. All she knew was that she had a strong set of lungs—and she used them to let me know that her needs were to be tended to ASAP.
Honestly, this was a big blow to my ego. Hadn’t I done everything the “right” way? Hadn’t I read all the parenting prep books and eaten mindfully while I was pregnant and exercised until three days before I went into labour? I had worked to set up the perfect environment for this little girl and I to be partners from Day 1.
But when she was born, all of those plans went out the window. I was frustrated at not being able to control this tiny human and I was exhausted by all the crying (hers and mine). I judged myself harshly for not Winning At Motherhood, the way I had planned to.
I beat myself up. I was upset with her. I compared her to other babies, and myself to other parents. I’m sure she felt my negative energy and the cycle went round and round.
Sometime after I had returned to the office after a tumultuous maternity leave, I was invited to The Leader’s Discipline™, a two-day Roy Group experience that explores what it means for leaders to use a coaching approach.
I jumped at the chance for leadership development, a chance to return to one of my pre-baby loves. Honestly, a part of me was also excited to just drink hot coffee without a clinging child for a while.
I got a lot more than hot coffee from that course. Over those two days, I was able to revisit so many beliefs I had about what it meant to be a good leader.
And it completely changed my parenting approach.
Although I took away a whole playbook of wisdom from that Leader’s Discipline, the core concepts continue to surprise me in their power to guide me in showing up as my finest self in any situation, be it work or family life.
1: Your conduct is everything.
The way you choose to conduct yourself as a leader has an outsized effect on your team. If I show up to the office flustered and distracted, unable or unwilling to be present with my coworkers, they may take that to mean that they’re not important to me.
I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like you weren’t important to your boss, but if you have, you know that it can affect the way you feel about yourself, the way you choose to move through the day, the way results unfold. The conduct of leaders touches every aspect of the performance of a team, at the most basic level.
On the other hand, if I show up and conduct myself in a way that shows my team that I care—if I truly listen when they talk and assume my role as an ally, my team knows that not only are they important to me, but they are not alone.
From that place, anything becomes possible.
This is true in how we conduct ourselves with our children too. When I show up for my daughter in a way that she can feel we are connected and she has my full attention, the parenting becomes easier.
2. Your team is capable. (Your child is capable too.)
Sure, when someone on your team comes to you with a problem that you already know how to navigate, it might be easier and faster in the near term to just tell them what to do. But over the long haul it’s going to serve both you and them better if you can stop yourself from giving them what you think the answer is. Instead, double down on building their capacity to find their own way forward. The most important leadership role you might play in a situation like this is to create a safe space for them to wade through the potentially uncomfortable process of learning how they will carve their own path.
Yes, of course there are times for instruction and for advice-giving. I wouldn’t expect my team to be able to use a brand new CRM flawlessly without providing instruction on how to use it, the same way I wouldn’t expect my 5-year-old to make a cake from start to finish without giving some direction. But more often than not, the most impactful thing you can do is give them ownership in finding the right solution for them.
The more opportunity you create for people to be capable, the more capable they become.
3. It’s not actually about you.
Even if you think you could solve all of your team’s problems, it’s not actually about you (or what you perceive the problem to be).
Early on in my career, I had a team member who wouldn’t meaningfully participate when we had our one-on-one progress meetings on Wednesday mornings. Sometimes I would have to ask if he had heard me, or repeat myself multiple times. I started to feel a bit disrespected and took things personally because I didn’t see him doing this to anyone else.
After a few such sessions, I shared with him the pattern that I was noticing and asked him what was going on. His answer surprised me. He apologized profusely, and explained that he was staying up extra late on Tuesday nights to take a coding course and was having a hard time focusing during our meetings because he was so tired. We moved them to Mondays instead and everything was smooth sailing!
The other day, my daughter lost a rock. Sounds trivial, but for a 5-year-old this can be devastating. She was sobbing to me, and my brain immediately went to finding a new rock to replace it. That should solve the problem, right? Thankfully I remembered that it wasn’t about my perspective. I asked her what was really bothering her about it. Turns out she was worried she wouldn’t have anything to bring to Show and Tell the next day. It wasn’t about the rock at all. We chose something else from her nature collection to bring in instead. Easy peasy!
Try to remember that it’s not about you. Ground yourself in curiosity and ask questions without assuming the answers. Allow the space for your team members or your kids to examine and talk about things from their perspective.
4. Humans ≠ robots
For better or for worse, you can’t program humans to complete a task and just expect them to complete it to the letter, the way you would a robot. This is true for all humans, including your teammates, your kids, yourself.
This means that sometimes things go sideways. Sometimes there are mistakes. Sometimes things don’t get completed just as you intended them to.
But then you have an opportunity to ask yourself, Do I want to get more done? Or do I need everything to get done perfectly? Take that moment to reflect on what’s important. How far can your team reach, how competently can they traverse the terrain of today’s uncertain environment, how much will they learn to rely on each other for ideas and feedback if you’re always demanding that everything be tied with a bow?
Keep compassion and empathy at the forefront of your leadership and parenting. Compassion for them, compassion for yourself. Period.
5. There is so much power in a pause.
As leaders and parents, we are pretty accustomed to jumping into action, to getting things done, to keep on moving. That’s great. The world needs you to act. But don’t forget to balance that action with a powerful, intentional pause.
Pause to restore your energy. Pause to reflect. Pause to allow space for the other person to work through a solution on their own before jumping in to help.
This pause away from the office and home to attend The Leader’s Discipline allowed for so much learning and it really allowed me to build my energy levels back up so that I could be a better leader at work and a better parent at home.
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There is a virtuous cycle at work here. Being intentional about your conduct…leads to focus in your practice…leads to results and feedback…leads to reinforcement that your conduct is the most powerful lever for doing great work.
The more I develop as a leader and a coach, the more clear it becomes to me that I don’t know all the answers. And that it’s actually not my role to know all the answers.
My role is to help others learn and expand. To create a space where they feel safe to try things, to celebrate their part in the results when they succeed, to help them tease out their learnings when they don’t.
This understanding informs my role as a parent, too. When I view it from this lens, I’m able to be more patient, more solid and steady, more joyful (even in the hard moments), more present, less judgmental of my child and myself.
And that makes for a pretty good mom.
Vivienne Damatan is Roy Group’s Learning Lead for Women and Emerging Leaders.