Corporate Lessons From My Mom’s Kitchen

During Women’s Month there is heightened focus on under-representation of women in ranks of power, despite holding formal titles in the workplace. My thoughts on this have changed a lot since I started my corporate career 28 years ago.

Looking back on my career, I realise many skills I used over the last 3 decades are lessons I learned in my mother’s kitchen:

You don’t need a title to have influence
My father was the breadwinner and head of the family. My mom was your typical stay at home mother, yet she held the influence. My dad was the head of the body but my mom the neck that could turn the head in the direction she needed it to. My kitchen lesson is that you influence people in the workplace more through words, actions, and behaviour than simply through a position of authority.

Know your limitations
We live in a world that celebrates self-belief, but it is far more important to have self-awareness. My mom was the very best in cooking and baking, however she knew over-tutoring her children will lead to conflict in the house. From an early age she instead taught us to be independent. My kitchen lesson is that you should strive to be the best in your field and continuously put in effort to learn. It is acceptable to not be the absolute best in smaller aspects of your job if you remain open to suggestions and improvement while striving to learn from them.

Put your people ahead of yourself
It’s very hard to turn your team into a high-performing group when your focus is primarily on yourself. My mom has always put her family’s needs before her own and we grew up knowing we were her focus. We know children can be self-centred, however my mom’s love and affection was greatly returned when we did not become difficult teenagers. My kitchen lesson is that when you put your team first, you will be rewarded with a motivated team who will go out of their way to support you.

Don’t command; empathize
My mom really knew her children and what makes us tick. She invested the effort to understand each child and what motivates us. My kitchen lesson is that for many years women have been told that we are too kind or considerate to be effective leaders. The converse idea that someone who is unkind or uncaring can lead is however at odds with reality and today’s leadership demands that we establish an emotional connection with our teams.

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