Leadership is a funny word—not the definition itself, but the ideas that have been ingrained in our culture to come to mind when we hear the word. And, funnier still, that writing about “moms in leadership” is somehow something that doesn’t come naturally—it’s a writing piece. But, we all have mothers, right? Some biological, some not, some that stay with us from the beginning, others we find along the way (or find us, rather). And doesn’t this position, this specific hierarchy, already assume a leadership role? We look up to them both literally, from the start of our lives, and figuratively. These moms, these women, live with us and surround us for the majority of our lives. This is a bit rambling; I know. But, how can we alter our understanding of leadership to be more naturally reflexive to turn towards our mothers? I know for certain that I have learned more from my mom than any other person, regardless of sex or career. And her leadership abilities weren’t defined by major decisions that altered the world beneath me; rather, her leading me was gentler, not demanding; it came in standing beside, rather than in front. So, here’s what my mom has taught me that I know for sure:
1. You’re here to serve…
My mom prides herself in her ability to serve others—to help when needed, even when not directly asked. She is grounded in her deeply held value of servitude—so much so that she considers it a passion. She has always met you where you were (but, she may point out how much of an idiot you were for getting there), and helped you get to where you needed to. And, growing up witness to this idea of servitude has helped me find joy in jobs that some may consider fruitless, pointless, or just exhausting to how many ever-varying degrees. Having that root, that understanding, that you are here to help is what continues to be a prime motivator for me regardless of the circumstances.
2. …But you’re also allowed to walk away from what no longer serves you
Although my mom instilled a heart rooted in servitude, she also forewarned that I am allowed to walk away from what no longer serves me. You’re allowed to say, “No,” which has become a continuous lesson, not only in leadership but also in just being human. Maya Angelou wrote, “Be careful when a naked man offers you his shirt.” Sure, offering your shirt is the pinnacle of servitude, but you have to make sure you’re wearing one first—meaning, take care of yourself first before you offer yourself up to others.
3. Still rise
“You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
—Maya Angelou, American poet
My mom taught me from a young age that I wasn’t going to live life unscathed. She was justified in doing so—she was rearing me knowing full well that I would struggle in a myriad of aspects in my life. She was a firm believer in tough love and, having come into adulthood, experiencing certain adversities that would be uncommon to most, I understand why—she was teaching me the art of resilience.
It’s easier to write this with some semblance of conviction now, sure—having looked at it from both sides now and living after it, not through it. But I now view this form of resistance, this value in being certain of your worth and rising still, as the fundamental lesson of leadership, one of which I am still learning, I am still teaching myself, a lesson that I know my mom hopes I will uphold.
“I come as one, but I stand with ten thousand.”
—Maya Angelou, American poet
These lessons I have learned—am still learning—are a culmination many women before me fought for. It reminds us that we have a seat at the table—one that wasn’t bought, one that cannot be taken for granted. To my beloved matriarch, your strength in not only being, but leading those around you, is not lost. Thank you, mom.