Of Leadership and Motherhood
Motherhood is not an achievement, it is a calling—though many of us were probably answering a different call when we became pregnant. The point is that by the time a woman trades sweet dreams for dirty diapers and frantic lullabies, she knows this is not what she signed up for.
Thus a leader’s first lesson: it is not what you expected. Motherhood is messier, more frustrating, less personally fulfilling than imagined. At moments you look for a way out. But neither motherhood nor leadership is a passing fancy.
Just as the diaper phase ends, the real work begins. Little temperaments appear, bad habits drop the gauntlet, and your discipline must hold the line without breaking the spirit.
This second phase is potentially most daunting. Immediate problems are solvable—slaying dragons at the door is instinctive. It’s the rodents within that awaken a leader at 3 a.m. to wonder if the challenges are too great.
Then it hits you: The problems you came on board to heroically solve for someone else are now your problems, all yours. No one remembers that you inherited them in the first place.
You live in the problems and a certain rhythm appears. Good days and bad, you wear the mother tag—or leader badge—with increasing comfort. Sometimes you begin to believe you’re getting the hang of it. That’s when the trouble comes.
Maybe it’s a bad friend. Maybe a lawsuit. I've been the object of both, and seeing my child with a "bad influence" felt amazingly like discovering my company faced legal action. What do I do? Was it preventable? What happens next?
Get this moment wrong and the consequences are incomprehensible. Get it right and you regain equilibrium. Downside, all downside, stares you in the face.
Sometimes you deal with it. Sometimes you bumble through. Others may look at you, second guess you, doubt you. You hope their doubts are ill-founded.
Eventually come the rewards . . . accolades, joy, the things that pass for success—what you thought you were there for. And about that time, you understand. Motherhood and leadership are not about the payoff. They are about investment in others, careful management of problems, giving up oneself to the point that self is not noticed.
Good mothers and good leaders usually live way over their heads in conditions that require more prayer than theory, more clinging to faith than controlling destiny. Yes, there are mothers and good leaders who pull it all off without God, but I can't imagine how.
Dale Hanson Bourke has been a publisher, editor, president, board member, and mother.