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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Management as a Mothering Activity

When I was a kid each set of grandparents (may they rest in peace) wanted to hear that I preferred them to the other ones. It rose to the level of a family joke that at every visit to the Catskills, Grandma would ask if I preferred the mountain air to Toronto. Meanwhile Zayde would ask me the same.
"You don't have to answer if you don't want to."
Suuure.
Just like the endless "favorite grandparents" discussion, men and women will never stop comparing themselves to one another when it comes to gendered skills. "Women are horrible drivers," some men love to say, "because they never look." Whereas "men are horrible drivers," according to the women, "because they are so goddamn aggressive."
When it comes to management I can honestly say that gender superiority simply does not exist. There are some men who are great, intuitively great, get-the-team-together-and-get-it-done types, and others who are abusive, self-serving, smirking control freaks. Similarly, some women use gender to pretend to be empathic and friendly, whilst circumventing your body to stab you right in the back. Others don't bother "acting feminine," they're just no-nonsense, competent, highly intelligent, productive people who know how to keep the trains running on time.
However, having watched some mothers in action over the past few days -- after many years of being away from little kids -- I do think that managers can learn a thing or two from them. As follows:
1) Mothers are extremely empathic. A good one sees, at a very deep level, what is going on. They don't just look at externals or metrics - qualitative and quantitative are all there, rolled into one.
2) Mothers listen to their kids. By paying attention to thoughts and ideas large and small, they validate the children's sense of self.
3) Mothers are always on duty. A child knows there is always somebody there.
4) Mothers have a "safety-first" mindset when it comes to their kids, and won't hesitate to yank a kid out of the way when they see trouble approaching.
5) Mothers are particularly good at helping kids to love themselves for who they are, rather than imposing an external set of rules or ideals on them as to "who you have to be in order to be accepted."
Applied to the workplace, I believe that a mothering ethic would enable managers to improve the performance of their employees significantly.
Whereas a fathering ethic involves mechanically considering the job first, and trying to "mush" the employee into a mold to match that, the mother focuses on the child first. This type of manager -- female or male -- considers the human being who is occupying the position, their health and well-being, and how to build on their strengths to achieve maximum productivity.
Along the way, this kind of manager listens to what the employee has to say, accommodates their quirks to some extent, but also calls them out when they're acting in a way that's inconsistent with the performance level they ordinarily deliver.
We would see a more engaged, more productive, more successful workforce if we spent more time professionally mothering our employees.
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By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own; this blog is posted in the author's personal capacity. Available for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0. Public domain photo via Pixabay.