Navigating the Motherly Role: How it Translates in the Workplace

Summary: The role of a mother holds a place of paramount importance. First, there is nurturing and guiding in the family. Then there are significant manifestations in the workplace. Here we unravel the myriad ways in which the essence of motherhood permeates professional spheres.

Dear Dr Sylvia,

In your Total Leadership Connections Program you talk about the roles we all play. We have to be so careful NOT to make our bosses take the place of either our mother or father.

You are so right.

As a boss I often worry when one of my employees makes me into the kindest, most wonderful person they ever met.

Look, while Mother’s Day is soon, it belongs to the woman who birthed us. We either love them, dislike them, ignore them, or make peace with them.

When I see this behavior, and get an overload of acknowledgment, I know it can end badly.

I do not, hear me, do not want to become the surrogate mother for someone to work out their, as it is called now, “the mother wound.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. I will wait until June to hear what you say about the “Father wound.”


Curious George

Be curious about how personal relationships can “bleed” into work settings

Dear George,

Great that you are curious. That leads to good questions and a willingness to look, listen, and learn.

I believe Mother’s Day is a great marketing tool for those who sell candy and flowers. And let’s not leave out the traditional brunch at the best places in town.

It is also, a time to connect with or remember your mother in a positive way, if that is at all possible.

Now, let’s dig deeper into your question.

Redefining Boundaries at work should be for Human Resources

The workplace often mirrors familial dynamics, with hierarchies resembling authority structures at home. However, the analogy between a boss and a mother is not always seamless.

While a mother’s love is meant to be unconditional, it is very complex.

Also, the professional realm demands a transactional approach. “Your Boss is NOT Your Mother” by Debra A. Mandel underscores this distinction, urging individuals to navigate workplace relationships with clear boundaries.

In my book, Don’t Bring It to Work” the concept of “family of origin” behaviors elucidates how patterns ingrained during childhood can manifest in professional settings.

For example, motherly traits such as empathy and nurturing, are often unchecked. This may lead to blurred lines between personal and professional domains, potentially impeding productivity and creating conflicts.

Leadership Parallels often go from home to work

The archetype of a nurturing mother often aligns with leadership qualities, fostering a supportive and inclusive work environment.

In fact, studies have shown that leaders exhibiting traits traditionally associated with motherhood, such as empathy and emotional intelligence, tend to cultivate more engaged and motivated teams.

However, the dichotomy arises when these maternal attributes are misconstrued as signs of weakness, especially in male-dominated industries.

For example, books likeLean In” by Sheryl Sandberg shed light on the challenges women face in balancing assertiveness with empathy. She discusses issues about navigating the fine line between being perceived as “too aggressive” or “too maternal” in leadership roles.

Mentorship and guidance need guardrails so boundaries are safe

For instance, in a perfect world, motherhood epitomizes guidance and mentorship, qualities that resonate in professional mentor-mentee relationships. Just as a mother hopefully nurtures her child’s growth, mentors play a pivotal role in fostering the development of their mentees. They are meant to impart wisdom and support to navigate career challenges.

Books such as “Lean In” and Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” by Lois P. Frankel emphasize the importance of mentorship in overcoming gender biases and ascending the corporate ladder.

By harnessing the nurturing instinct inherent in motherhood, mentors can empower individuals, especially women, to realize their full potential in the workplace.

Work-Life Integration is critical to a healthy workplace

The modern discourse on work-life balance underscores the need to reconcile professional aspirations with familial responsibilities. Mothers, in particular, grapple with the perennial dilemma of juggling career advancement with caregiving duties.

“Lean In” advocates for a paradigm shift from ‘work-life balance’ to ‘work-life integration.’ Sandberg advocates for policies that accommodate the diverse needs of employees, including parental leave and flexible work arrangements.

“Don’t Bring It to Work” delves into the impact of unresolved family dynamics on professional behavior. I emphasize the importance of self-awareness and emotional intelligence in fostering healthy work-life integration.

Therefore, by acknowledging and addressing the interplay between familial roles and professional identities, individuals can achieve greater harmony and fulfillment in both spheres.

The mother-child relationship can be dangerous if played out at work.

I learned this the hard way, when early on in my career as a team leader one of my female reports would tell everyone she thought I was the most brilliant boss she ever had.

Initially, I bought the package and decided I must be “amazing.”

That is, until I said “No” to her and chose another for a plum assignment.

After that, it got ugly. I was the one who was “the worst” person with whom she had ever worked.

We ended up in HR. She was ready to file a hostile workplace lawsuit.

What did I learn from this?

Not to over give, nor over praise. And especially, to keep my ego in check!

The intricate interplay between the roles of a mother and a professional, create a rich tapestry.

This includes experiences and challenges. Here we get a nuanced understanding of how maternal attributes manifest in the workplace.

In conclusion, We all must learn to navigate the delicate balance between empathy and assertiveness, mentorship and leadership, and work-life integration. Individuals can harness the transformative power of motherhood to cultivate thriving, inclusive, and empathetic work cultures. Let’s continue to unravel the complexities of human relationships.

To your success,

Sylvia Lafair

PS. My book GUTSY: How Women Leaders Make Change” gives many insights into this powerful relationship with mothers.

Creative Energy Options

Sylvia Lafair

Creative Energy Options