My last blog got me thinking about the main characteristics of a transformational leader and how they sound, well, almost motherly.
Think about it: When we consider leadership outside the corporate context, surely the greatest leaders in many of our personal lives are our mothers, our caregivers. Where would we be now without all their compassion and hard work, their nagging about homework, even lectures about responsibility?
Many of you reading this are probably mothers. Whether you’re going it alone or raising kids with a partner, you play a pivotal leadership role in your child’s life. You conflict manage your “unreasonable” tidy-up requests, negotiate about that awful desire you have to make your child (dare I say it?) eat vegetables (how could you!) and encourage their dreams while convincing them that being a Power Ranger is probably not quite the career for them. I think, if we are all honest, we can admit that 5-year-olds are harder to negotiate with than (most!) full grown adults.
After my last blog, my colleague Ian Sharpe questioned whether the results found by The Commonwealth Cecretariat (seen at the bottom of my last blog) could be due to gender upbringing, the binary constructs we’re taught as children and beyond that make “a man or woman” today.
I think there is certainly some truth to this thought, but the stereotypes don’t always hold true.
As a young woman, I worked with a student in a gifted-and-talented program to help create her career plan (she was around 13-14). We were filling in her application to university, and she seemed upset. I asked, “What’s wrong?” And this young woman looked at me and said, “I want to work in fashion.” I nodded and said, “Well why are you aiming your college A-levels at Law and Politics?”
She looked me dead in the face and said, “My mum said I need to do a ‘proper’ subject, but I hate such factual black-and-white subjects. I like to be creative.” I assume the mother only wanted what was best for her child, but it seemed hard to believe she wouldn’t support her clearly gifted daughter in what she wanted to do.
Stereotypes often tell us that women nurture and help people flourish. We guide people, listen to people and encourage them. We are often taught through life that, as women, we have this type of ability or responsibility. I know my parents always encouraged me to think about why a person might be behaving in a certain way. But this baffles my male friends who never considered the background issues that can affect a person’s behavior. They never thought to think that way. Men are often encouraged to react, and women encouraged to listen and understand.
I think we can all agree that, though there are examples of stereotypes being true, stereotypes on the whole are never a good thing. My own father played a transformational role in my life, going against the grain. He warned me off a photography course, but not in a forceful way. He made me see that, although I would enjoy it, I should probably consider it as a hobby. He also strongly encouraged me to do English as my degree, though, when I expressed that my Dyslexia made it difficult and mentally exhausting, he listened and supported me through my Psychology degree.
Could I picture him being transformational given his role as an engineer? Probably not. But experience shows he has those characteristics, even if the stereotypes say otherwise.
From a research perspective, I do wonder about the seemingly huge coincidence that transformational leadership styles fit so snugly into the nurturing framework we use to lead children. It would be very interesting to see if fathers and, in particular, single fathers exhibit these same transformational traits, which I’m happy to explore if anyone would mind coming on board!
So to all of the mothers out there, embrace your natural sway to leadership — in your families and beyond! Why wouldn’t you? Well. This is what we will consider in the next blog.
PS: Please share if you like my ideas! I would like my blogs to grow bigger and create a real thought-provoking experience!