The Matriarch as CEO

I bumped into a young mom at a coffee shop a couple of weeks ago. She’s a hard-charging entrepreneur… always on the go. I hadn’t seen her for more than a year, so we grabbed a quiet corner table and started to catch up.

Over a couple of steaming lattes she opened up to me about her harried life. She loves her children. But she confessed that there were times when parenting didn’t feel as rewarding as her career.

“I used to think I was smart,” she said. “Then after I had my kids, I started to feel stupid – like I was losing my brain power every day. And for a while, I couldn’t find a way to build it back up.”

Being a mom — especially of small children — can be like living in a raft going down Class 5 rapids in a frenzy of whitewater. It may seem like you’re drowning in a swirl of scattered toys, laundry and sibling squabbles. And it certainly doesn’t feel mentally stimulating.

Whether you’re a working mom or a stay-at-home mom, you may feel you have no escape. You’re crunched for time, and you have no energy left over to think, plan or organize. It may all seem so overwhelming and unfocused. But, through it all, you’re learning more than you think. And your job is more important than you know.

Running the Show

As the matriarch, you’re in charge of keeping your family unit together. You provide for the physical, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual needs of your children. You make sure they are prepared to meet the challenges of the world around them. In many ways, you are the CEO of a small organization. And many of the skills you use are the same as those used by CEOs of large corporations.

You’ve learned the skills needed to put out the fires and deal with the chaos of rearing children. You’ve learned how to organize activities, manage schedules and resolve conflicts before your kids kill each other. You know how to soothe, comfort and encourage – even when you’re at the point of exhaustion. You guide, coach and mentor your kids to think for themselves and make good choices.

Research has shown that mothers make good leaders. And many top female executives point to motherhood as the source of the skills that make them successful.

Moms don’t have a guide. There’s no universal training manual for raising kids. And you’ve probably noticed that it doesn’t always come naturally. But gradually you’ve learned to become the leader of the most important organization in your life – your family.

A Powerful Training Ground

Being a mother is the toughest job you’ll ever have. Far from depleting your brain cells, motherhood makes you think smarter. It’s also one of the most powerful training grounds for teaching valuable management skills. Those skills prepare you to be successful in almost any arena you choose.

Successful career women identify at least five home-management skills which contribute to their effectiveness at work. Having learned and practiced these skills with their children, they recognize the advantage of carrying them into the office.

1. The Art of Multi-tasking

One of the most essential traits of any successful leader is the ability to multi-task. It’s the art of juggling – of having multiple balls in the air at the same time and feeling comfortable that, even though there’s a lot going on, you’re still in control.

Having kids gives mothers a million opportunities to practice this skill. There is often no option. It’s a necessity.

A real estate broker I’ll call Lori told me that she remembers the first days of her new business. She was feeding her two-year-old in the high chair. She had the phone to her ear negotiating a contract. Her four-year-old was tugging at her shirt saying his toast was ready. Her husband was trying to get her attention about something he’d lost. In between, she was stirring something on the stove. She found herself dealing with all of these things at once… successfully.

When she got off the phone, Lori thought to herself, “Wow! I never knew how to do so many things at once before I had children.” She also realized it was a skill that made her successful in her business.

2. Prioritizing Is Key

Good leaders have learned to differentiate between what really needs attention and what is merely a false crisis. It’s a balancing act being able to tackle issues in the most effective order. Moms prioritize every day. As the manager of your home, you understand that you simply can’t get it all done the way you had hoped. You learn to take things in stride without losing balance or taking out your stress on your kids or husband.

Parenting sometimes looks like triage, taking on the most important things first. You realize that, even though there were 40 things on your list and you only got it down to 28, if they’re in the right order, that’s okay.

The happiest and healthiest moms accomplish what needs to be done.

3. Go with the Flow

Patrice is the CEO of a large PR firm. Because of the nature of her business, schedules change, clients drop in unexpectedly, deadlines shift and employees cause minor disruptions from time to time. But Patrice has learned to keep her eye on the goal and make the necessary adjustments to go with the flow.

She learned the skill of flexibility from raising her kids. Patrice says she never believed in a rigid set of rules that couldn’t be altered. She developed a mindset for accepting change as a part of life. She maintained order and stability at home. But she also realized that she always had to have a Plan B.

With children nothing is more constant than change. As Patrice says, “You just can’t schedule your kids. You can’t say, ‘This is really a bad time for you to get sick. I have an important meeting today. Next Tuesday would be a much better time for you to start throwing up.’”

Patrice compares mothering to skiing – you never know what’s coming next, so you just keep your knees bent, face downhill and let it roll!

As a mom, you too have learned how to be flexible. It’s the only way to make the job of parenting manageable.

4. Empowering Builds Self-Esteem

Nancy is a successful magazine publisher because she is good at empowering her employees. Rather than controlling them, she gives them the authority to make their own decisions. She gives them ample opportunities to flourish and grow. As a result, they believe in themselves and do a better job for her.

Nancy honed this skill of empowerment through raising her children. She says any good mom guides her kids. But the key is to teach them to do things on their own. Self-esteem and self-reliance come from learning to do things independently.

Nancy would say to herself, “Gee, my son has strengths in this particular area, and he doesn’t even know it yet. Maybe if I encourage him, he’ll recognize those strengths and develop them.”

I’m sure you are constantly on the lookout for ways

to empower your children to be the best they can be. As a thoughtful, caring parent you should aim to inspire them to envision their own future and give them the tools to reach their goals.

5. People Skills Go a Long Way

Most successful female executives point to their people skills as a key to their success. For them, there is no doubt that practicing these skills at home while raising their kids made them more effective in their careers.

Martha, a top-level manager of a tech company, says her strongest people skills are compassion and understanding. In spite of her busy schedule, she always let her children know how much she cared about their troubles. And she always took the time to hear their stories. Committed to those traits at home, she carried them into her office.

Martha believes that the reason her employees work hard is that they know she cares about them and because she treats them well. Her compassion and understanding gained her cooperation and respect at home. Those same traits have been largely responsible for her success as a leader in her firm too.

A Noble Mission

Unfortunately, being a mom is undervalued in today’s society — by both men and women. The upside is that motherhood teaches you many of the critical skills needed to be successful in life. Moms learn how to communicate, organize, discipline, motivate, empower and inspire. It’s almost like getting an alternative MBA!

When you take on the responsibility of managing a home, you are providing the building blocks that will launch your children and your entire family into success. You are using your learned skills to create a unified, communicative and dedicated family unit that is essential to the family office mission of preserving family wealth and prosperity long into the future.

Although it’s easy to get consumed by the day-to-day drudgery of maintaining a household, mothers should never forget the importance of their missions — and the considerable skills they have used to bring peace, productivity and prosperity to their families.

© Joanne Stern, PhD. All rights reserved. Originally published in the Bonner & Partners Family Office Strategic Review, Volume 2, Issue 3, July 2014 •


About the Author:

Joanne K. Stern, PhD, is a family consultant with an extensive background in psychology. She helps families resolve the complex people problems that often tear families apart and destroy harmony, happiness, and sustained financial success. A frequent speaker, keynote presenter, and workshop leader, she has been a guest expert on more than 200 TV and radio shows and has contributed to various newspapers, magazines, and online media.
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