Last Friday my mother passed away. I was sitting with her when it happened. She hadn’t been well since she came home a month ago, so I did the best I could to make her comfortable until the event happen. I’ll miss my mother greatly, but that doesn’t mean I’ll forget some of the lessons she taught me, both directly and indirectly.

Mom and me

It’s kind of amazing, and I feel like I should smack myself silly. I haven’t written about my mother, Betty, in years. Sure, I’ve mentioned her here and there in regards to other stories, but the only time she got her own post was back in 2009 when I wrote A Lesson I Learned From Mom. Time to rectify that I believe.

Mom’s been in my life longer than anyone; of course that makes sense. Even when Dad was alive he was gone often, so it was just her and me. I owe her my life and other things, but of course I’ve learned some leadership lessons from her, good and bad. To whit, I’m going to share 5 of them:

1. If you’re going to be in charge, you need to be ready to do it for the long haul.

That’s what most mothers do and yet it’s an important lesson to learn for anyone looking to be a good leader. You don’t get to turn it off and on when you’re in the workplace. You don’t get to be someone’s best friend at one moment and then their superior (by position) the next. It just doesn’t work well.

2. You need to keep your eye on people, even when you don’t think you need to.

We lived on military bases most of my young life. My mother figured there was nothing that could happen to me since we were on base.

She was wrong. Not that I ever hurt myself but I literally challenged death multiple times without her knowledge. Before the age of 6 I had climbed up multiple buildings from the outside, then slid under barbed wire because I was small. There’s other things I did that she didn’t know about until I was in my mid 30’s; she was mortified.

Even if you feel you have the most competent staff ever, if you take your eyes off things too long you’ll almost always find that something’s gone wrong. Even if they knew about it they might have thought you’d just take care of it. Always make sure your employees feel safe to let you know when things don’t look right. Never get caught off guard on something you should know about.

3. Always learn the truth, then be loyal.

I’m not going to say I never lied to Mom about anything, but usually it was for things like whether I ate cookies or something like that. Whenever it was something critical I always told the truth, even if something might have been my fault… which it never was. lol

Both my parents had always told me that when it was critical I should tell the truth because it was the thing to do, and I believed it. So, when I broke this kid’s teeth with my elbow, I told them as well as adding it was an accident because we were playing football. Thus, when his mother came to my mother demanding it be paid for, my mother knew the story from my mouth and held her ground, knowing that if the mother took her kid to the dentist on base (which she didn’t want to do) it would be paid for by the government.

Many employees feel that the person they report to won’t take their side when things get tough. I’ve never done that to any of my employees, though if they were in the wrong we’d address that situation in a proper way. I’ve always been loyal to the people who work for or with me, as long as they exhibited the same for me. Then again, I’ve always been loyal to anyone throughout my life that I felt deserved it.

4. Sometimes you have to use your Spidey senses to know when something’s wrong.

Like any adolescent, I had periods where I’d be quieter than normal because of things going on in my life. I’d feel like I had no one to talk to, and being an only child that was true more often than not.

Mom always seemed to have a sense of something troubling me, and she wouldn’t be afraid to bring it up to me. I might have hesitated here and there but eventually I’d get it out. She never reacted badly to anything I said, which was a major comfort. Sometimes she offered advice; sometimes she got me information I could learn on my own, since she knew I was a big reader. She was also an only child so maybe that experience helped her understand me.

As a manager and leader, sometimes you have to be available to those who work for you and at least listen to their stories. If you notice a change in behavior, sometimes you might have to initiate the conversation. After all, it’s part of what you signed on for when you accepted the leadership position.

5. Sometimes you have to tell people things even if you feel they’re not ready for it.

My parents sheltered me from a lot of things, even as I got older. Neither of them told me how serious my dad’s situation was until 8 months before he passed away. Over the years Mom would have episodes where she’d have to be taken to the emergency room, yet it was information that neither of them told me. And, it wasn’t until 2 years ago that I learned Dad had been shot in both Korea and Vietnam; talk about being shocked!

I’m the only child; I needed to know what was going on during those times as it pertained to Mom, just in case. Over the last 5 years, I was the one watching over Mom and always asking her how she was doing. I’m the one who asked her about her medication and when she was going to doctor’s appointments and such, and when she moved in with me I took the lead over those things.

As a leader, when someone’s messing up you need to tell them. When things are bad with the company you need to tell them. If something bad is happening with them you have to deal with it, and if it’s on your end you just might have to say something as well.

Thanks for the lessons Mom, both good and bad. I love you more than you probably ever knew, and I’ll work to live up to your standards and belief in me.
 

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