Management Lessons from Motherhood

Management Lessons from Motherhood
In her Friday Notes, Ruth Levine has provided reflections on the management lessons that she learned first through motherhood.

Excerpts from her essay follow:

The risk of talking about management in the same breath as “toddler” is that people immediately detect the potential of condescension and a patronizing viewpoint. That’s not where I’m going. It is not that colleagues are children; it is that children are human and, as it turns out, colleagues are, too.

Humans do not like to be stripped of power. I learned early on…that the smallest interaction can be transformed into an unpleasant drama if power is at stake. The gratuitous exercise of power and authority brings on equal and opposite forms of resistance. “It’s time for your bath” can occasion a toddler’s equivalent of a very noisy sit-down strike.

Alternatives that empower with information, and tap into people’s inclinations toward goodness, work like magic. With the reluctant bath-taker: “I see your feet are dirty. Which soap could you use to clean them?”

Humans like to be seen as individuals, and not in comparison to others. When you have more than one child, it’s very tempting to compare and contrast. Because children mostly come in sequence, the script is often, “First Baby walked earlier than Second Baby” and so forth. It’s completely natural to make these comparisons — and also completely unhelpful. Even when the statements are meant as neutral observations, they end up carrying the weight of judgment. It doesn’t take much for kids to start thinking of themselves as the labels they hear: She’s the quiet one, he’s the clown. And it’s just one more step to believing that they are better or worse, maybe even more or less beloved. That’s definitely not a recipe for blissful sibling relationships.
Humans do not like to be judged for their worst days. The problem of labels that get stuck, and then become self-fulfilling prophesies, doesn’t just come from comparing one child to another. It also comes from generalizing about “bad” behaviors and viewing them as traits.
Children are often labeled early on in ways that nudge transitory behaviors into persistent ones. For instance, a toddler who doesn’t want to try a new food for two days in a row might be called a “fussy eater.” And from then on his mealtime habits are seen through the lens of his identity as a “fussy eater.” Within a short time, everyone — including himself — expects mealtime to be one more chance to show that, yes indeed, the only acceptable food is noodles with butter sauce.

Above and beyond all this, the most valuable lesson for management that I learned as a mom (and now grandmom) is how much good comes from just giving someone your undivided attention. I’d guess something like 90 percent of toddler “misbehavior” is a way to get an adult to pay attention. To get someone to listen, to play, maybe even to answer the question “why”? And at work, too, a good number of the problems that pop up can be solved through the simple act of paying attention.

I have a couple of days babysitting ahead of me, which is a chance to hone my toddler-wrangling (and management?) skills. Wish me luck!

© 2022 Ruth E Levine150 North Castanya Way, Portola Valley, CA 94028
The complete essay can be found at: Ruth E Levine, Ruth’s Friday Notes ruthelevine@substack.com August 26, 2022



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