Eleanor Roosevelt believed that women are natural leaders because they are nurturers. Consider how we raise children. We’ve known for a very long time that it is best to give them challenges, let them make and learn from mistakes, discipline with fitting, appropriate consequences, and grow their minds with education and experiences. Sound familiar? That’s the definition of modern leadership to the letter. We know that empowered, involved employees are an asset. Those to whom we dictate, who are simply told what to do and when, are just warm bodies. Machines. We don’t want machines, we want innovators.
So lead like a mom. Obviously don’t treat your reports like children, but know that adults can benefit from a nurturing environment and supportive management just as much as young people. But bringing your motherly instincts to the workplace can feel risky and uncomfortable. Why? Despite these concepts being introduced decades ago, when Mrs. Roosevelt was still alive and gracing us with her wisdom, it has only entered into conversations about women in leadership in recent years. Any belief that women could go to work and embrace her femininity seem to have vanished as females descended upon the workplace en masse. Enter the pantsuits of the 80’s and 90’s, the image of the competitive bitch, the ice queen who left warmth at home in favor of a membership card to the Good Old Boys Club.
I would like to think we’ve moved beyond that, but, for the most part, the professional women I know who are Gen X and older are still afraid to switch out of dictator mode. I have a boss who believes everyone lower than her on the totem pole is there to stay and should function as an obedient instrument. Shut up and function. Tell them what to do, reprimand them when they don’t… they’re not smart enough to contribute ideas or grow beyond their current position. I have proved that theory wrong with several employees since moving into middle management and she’s had to eat those words.
Will millennial women do it better? We face a different type of reproach for being ourselves than women did at the end of the 20th century. Now it’s not so much that we are being too girly, it’s a broader complaint that we’re needy – in it for the participation ribbon and pat on the back. We are ridiculed for our expectation that every member of the team shares in workplace leadership and ownership of the objectives. We demand respect. And, important News Flash, if we don’t like how we’re being treated, if we aren’t being given a change to grow and contribute, we’ll just leave. We aren’t a generation looking to passively do as we’re told for 30 years for the same company.
So, if you want to move your business into the future, don’t be afraid to mom-up. It will be critical to hang on to the younger generation because their ideas and efficiency will keep you afloat. Nurture your team. Give them a loose rein. What if your entire staff grew up to be at least as competent as you or even more so? That’s real leadership and it’s good business.