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Does being a mother provide additional leadership skills? MBA Researcher looking for answers....

(15 Posts)
Valair Mon 13-Dec-10 20:37:58

Dear mothers,

I’m writing to ask for an MBA-related favour, as well as to start a discussion...what are your thoughts on the question in the subject line? Do you agree? If so do you have examples?

And now to the favour bit... I need to find candidates to interview for my dissertation. I know this is a super busy time of year, the note below is actually about something that can happen in January...

I am looking for mothers working in leadership/management positions to interview.
They should have:
• •one or more children either between the ages of 4 and 7 or teenagers, [whether or not they also have younger or older children]
• a job where they hold a position of leadership/management which, solely for the purpose of the selection criteria, I define as having at least 5 direct reports.
• Be currently working

I would need to interview them in Jan or Feb 2011; the interview may take two hours tops and there might be some follow-up emails, but it would all be wrapped up by end of Feb.

If you are interested in participating in this research, or know of somebody who might be, please contact me outside of the list. I can give you more info and/or we can set up a time for a phone conversation or find a time to meet for a face to face.

For those interested, below a little bit more about what I am doing:
For my MBA ( dissertation I am doing research about how/if [mothers’] parenting skills transfer into the work place, and I am specifically focusing on leadership skills. The idea of drawing a parallel between parenting and [business] leadership originated out of a course discussion on leadership. Many of the qualities/skills described in the course literature, it struck me, are similar to those that parents [i.e. mothers] need to use in everyday life to raise their kids.
To prepare my research proposal I have already done some research, partly to see if anyone else has picked up on the seemingly obvious parallel between leadership and parenting and, if so, what’s already out there? To my surprise, and disappointment, I found very little, but enough to validate my idea. My proposal was accepted and I am now at the stage of looking for candidates to interview as part of my qualitative research. What I am interested to see [isolate, discover, illuminate, etc] is how learning to be a parent [i.e. parenting] teaches individuals new skills that can/do transfer over into the workspace when leading a group.

Many thanks,


sethstarkaddersmum Mon 13-Dec-10 20:39:31

I can't help cos I'm a SAHM but good luck, I think it is a brilliant idea.
I definitely think it does.

Justthisone Tue 14-Dec-10 09:00:33

Hi Valeria, I'm not willing to take part but I just wanted to throw in the discussion here that I think it has been the other way round for me - what I have learnt from the jobs I've done has actually informed the way I parent. I worked for 5 years in a supervisory role with people with learning difficulties, etc, so I learnt a hell of a lot there about relating to other people, controlling your emotions and reactions, setting boundaries, taking care of yourself, communicating with people who had communication difficulties, and what I learnt there was invaluable as a mother. I found it came completely naturally to me to communicate with dd at each stage of her growing up, on her level in a way she could understand, to not take her reactions personally, to put aside my own emotions and needs when required, and to look after myself, set appropriate boundaries as well. She's only 7 so far so we'll see what happens next!!!

Onetoomanycornettos Tue 14-Dec-10 10:08:51

I don't feel my mothering skills are very translatable to my job at all, they are just not the same skill set. The only way I feel the two interact is that I find it hard to do both properly as they both require you to be very focused and a tad obsessed and I find it hard to switch between the two.

I am an academic, so don't have people 'report' to me (except the odd research assistant), so am not useful for interviewing, but I think the question you are asking is an interesting one, and often repeated on these boards, that being a SAHM teaches you skills such as people management and budgeting etc. I did not find this to be the case, I am still crap at cooking, delegating, managing a budget, organizing and so on. I never was good at these and deliberately sought a career which doesn't use them. Having children does bring out your emotional side, but I think I was reasonably empathic beforehand and probably had more energy to put into managing the emotions of others before I had children. So, for me, there's no great connection.

Onetoomanycornettos Tue 14-Dec-10 10:11:05

Although this is not necessarily a bad thing for your thesis, to have people who don't feel they have gained translatable people or 'group' skills from parenting, you obviously don't want to interview just people who agree with your hypothesis!

Fiddledee Tue 14-Dec-10 11:42:18

I have an MBA but now a SAHM to two pre-schoolers. I have 20 years of management and leadership experience and I would say that parenting has taught me very if any skills, except that bribery is rather effective tool but mainly on small children and reinforces my opinion that shouting is not terribly effective but you just can't help it sometimes.

I'm not surprised you haven't found much. If parenting for women gave them such a wonderful skill set then they would be powering up the career ladder in masses.

Orissiah Tue 14-Dec-10 11:47:52

Hello, I wish you the very best in your research. I am now self-employed and manage no one but myself, however I was once a manager and (still) a mum and found no correlation whatsoever between parenting and managing. In fact, I did best at both when I completely separated the two realms. In fact, with mothering I find I function best if I not think too hard and in work I find I function best if I think alot (!!). Sorry cannot be much help or provide more detail (as in a rush) but good luck as it sounds like a good topic.

sethstarkaddersmum Tue 14-Dec-10 19:54:19

maybe it's more likely to teach you those skills if you don't have them already.... if you have 20 years experience and an MBA your leadership skills are probably quite well developed, compared to if you're 20 years old and have only ever worked in a junior capacity. (Obv some of the 20 year olds will already have developed the skills in other contexts, but many won't.)

InmaculadaConcepcion Tue 14-Dec-10 19:54:56

Interesting hypothesis, Valair!

I don't fit the bill to be one of your interviewees (I had management positions in the past, but am now a SAHM) but have some thoughts, FWIW...

I think parenting/motherhood has the potential of honing transferable skills in terms of leadership. In an ideal world, mothers gain expertise in communication, delegation, scheduling and handling stressful situations while remaining calm...etc.

The problem is that parenting, apart from the fundamentals of loving and caring for the DCs, is not instinctive, it is a learned behaviour. And the people we have learned it from (mostly our own parents) didn't always use the most effective techniques - not when considering those techniques in relationship to a management skillset.

I think many of us muddle through and pick up some useful tools when it comes to effective parenting, but it's all too easy to fall into traps like over-nagging, shouting, dictating etc. because we're copying the behaviours we ourselves experienced. And they don't make for good leadership qualities.

What it comes down to, I suspect, is that some mothers/parents are naturally good communicators etc. - and they would probably make good managers anyway. Others are not and they probably struggle (or would struggle) at times in either role.

A third group - and this is probably the most interesting one from your point of view - would seek out the best techniques when it comes to "managing" their children with the least stress to all concerned - and would indeed make good managers if they chose to apply those skills in the workplace. These are the people who question whether their "instinctive" response to a tricky situation (especially involving discipline) is actually the most effective and work on changing it if it is not.

I disagree with Fiddledee - the argument that loads of mums aren't managers ergo the skillset doesn't transfer doesn't take into account the difficulty many women have in regaining their position on the career ladder after having children and problems that come with combining work with childcare. Not to mention the very real existence of glass ceilings, patriarchal approaches to work etc. etc.

I suspect it comes down to the individual parent, in the end.

PS The thread in Parenting discussing the book "How To Talk So Kids Will Listen..." suggests that the area of communication in particular can be fruitful when it comes to building up effective skills for management...

Er - does any of that make sense??!!

InmaculadaConcepcion Tue 14-Dec-10 20:04:45

Funnily enough, I just spotted this thread which picks up on what I was saying above...

Simic Wed 15-Dec-10 09:16:29

As an employee who has lots of experience of being managed (!), I do see a huge difference between parenting and management. I often feel that managers at our work could learn a huge amount from some of the parenting books which are popular at present.
But, at the bottom line, the goals are fundamentally different.
At my work, my well-being, learning and development as an employee are a means to the end of delivering the product. At home, my child's well-being, learning and development ARE the goal.
I think this means that even if my boss were to start listening to me more, trying harder to understand why I am doing what I am doing, being clearer to me about how he sees the situation etc.., any techniques, practices will be fundamentally different because they have a different end in mind.
I can really imagine that skills are transferable between the two (as I say, I'd love my boss to read "How to listen..." for example!) - but as the philosophical framework is very different, I could imagine that people who are good managers aren't necessarily good parents and vice versa.

Simic Wed 15-Dec-10 09:18:44

And, tellingly, although I work in a large organisation, I don't know (of) a single woman with children in a management position...otherwise I would refer them to you!

BeenBeta Wed 15-Dec-10 09:30:39

Valeria - hello. I am a Dad and have an MBA as well as been a manager in the past. I dont think there is any correlation between leadership skills and parenting.

What I would say is that parenting involves a considerable amount of personal maturity, organisation skills and efficiency in getting jobs done. That is a good thing to have in any business person. It does not make you are a good leader though.

Justthisone Wed 15-Dec-10 21:06:16

I just remembered that my manager is on maternity leave having just had a baby, she was always very good at her job, very organised, efficient, detached (in the way she needed to be, I mean), in control, and from what I know of her she was the same at home, in bed at 10pm every night, etc. She was one of those women who were always very neatly dressed, never looked dishevelled or perturbed, or tired.

When I found out she was pregnant I wondered amusedly how she would cope, and sure enough from what I've heard she's found it very hard being out of control, not knowing what she's doing, etc etc.

So I think actually when you become a parent, however good a manager you are, the skills you have to learn are how to cope with the 'messiness' of having children, not always being in control, being content with "good enough", accepting your children are little people of their own; having your buttons pushed to the max, and also facing your own demons from your own childhood, that you might not have realised were there.

As Alfie Kohn put it, "When you come right down to it, the whole process of raising kids is pretty damned inconvenient, particularly if you want to do it well. If you're unwilling to give up any of your free time, if you want your house to stay clean and quiet, you might consider raising tropical fish instead."

xandrarama Thu 16-Dec-10 13:01:02

Hi Valair,

I don't qualify to be an interviewee, but I think it's a really interesting topic, and I wish my own students would pick similarly relevant (to me) research questions to investigate!

You have already done background research so are probably well aware of the literature on work-life enrichment / facilitation, but I thought I'd mention it just in case - there's some good stuff out there about transferring skills & abilities from one domain to the other. If you haven't come across this literature, let me know if you want some references to get you started.

Good luck with the research!

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