March 18, 2005
Excerpts: Mother Leads Best - Part VIII
One of the themes youll find running through these pages is that motherhood is not just a physical state but a state of mind. You can choose to give birth to children or choose to give to others. In either case, this decision shakes you out of a completely self-involved mind-set and enables you to mature as a leader. While becoming a mom was a nobrainer choice for me, deciding not to become a mom is a no-brainer choice for others. It may be that you have not found a partner with whom you want to have children or you believe that youre simply not the type of person who would make a good mother. Whatever the reason, if you are convinced that this would be a bad choice for you, dont let me, or society, convince you otherwise. Not everyone should be a parent, and if you have strong instincts against this, listen to your instincts.
If you choose not to become a mother or lifes circumstances prevent you from having children, find other means to attain the leadership lessons of motherhood. Oprah Winfrey, for instance, is incredibly nurturing and empathetic as well as a very powerful CEO, yet she has no biological children. In a recent interview, Oprah says that she is focusing a portion of her $1 billion net worth on helping the worlds children. She is devoting her private time to help build 12 schools for girls in Africa. I went to Africa to create the best Christmas possible for kids whod never had one, kids who didnt even understand the concept of a present, and the joy in that room was so thick you physically feel it. And in that moment, it hit me. Now I see why I am not married. Now I see why I never had children. I am supposed to work with these children. (Limbacher, 1)
Another childless executive, Sue Palmer, the managing director of London-based accounting firm Grant Thornton, is quoted in Susan Hewletts book, Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, as follows:
Round the time I realized I would most probably not get married and not have kids, I met this industrial psychologist... He told me that to remain strong and vital, I needed to find something in life that could be as important to me as children. If I could do thisfind some interest that had deep, personal meaningit would force me to balance my life. Otherwise, there was a danger my soul would shrivelI still remember his exact wordsand I could become some kind of one-dimensional workaholic. This conversation had such a profound impact. I mean, I just knew he was right. (Hewlett, 7071)
Sue went on to discuss the things she got involved with and summarized her involvement by saying, These are now my babies, and I know they are food for my soul. Many childless, giving women, like Sue and Oprah, channel their generous spirits into good causes. Not only do they receive food for the soul, but they become balanced and complete, much like mothers, and ultimately become more complete leaders.
While some women are absolutely certain that they do or do not want to have children, many are on the cusp. One day they worry that if they dont have kids, they will regret it, and the next they are so enmeshed in work issues that having children seems completely unrealistic.
Be aware, also, that a couple of the maternal leaders Ive interviewed were dead set against having children at one stage in their careers but changed their minds later on. Priscilla Lu, who was an executive at AT&T and went on to become the chairman and CEO of InterWAVE, a high-tech company in Silicon Valley, said that she was adamant about not wanting kids and shared this sentiment with her colleagues. When she got married, though, she changed her mind and decided to have children. She recalled:
My first pregnancy was pretty traumatic. When I found out, I was shocked. I was worried how I was going to handle being a mom. It was very overwhelming. I knew my life was going to be very, very different. I wasnt 100 percent sure of my decision. I went into a sort of deniallike, Nah, this isnt happening. But when Douglas was born, my fears went away. Everything did change, but it was wonderful. I guess its Mother Nature. I dont know where my nurturing side came from, but I immediately felt passionate love for my son and went on to have two more children.
Moms such as Priscilla make extraordinary leaders, but some women never experience the joy of motherhood or the rewards of maternal leadership, because common myths discourage them. Unlike women who make the motherhood decision with their eyes open and their minds clear, women who say no to motherhood often do so because they subscribe to false fears about how being a mom will impact their job effectiveness and their careers. Exploring and exploding these myths can help everyone in organizations by both preventing women who have already had kids from feeling guilty about or hamstrung by their choices and assisting women on the cusp to make the right choice for themselves.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.