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Leadership Lessons I Learned First From Mom

Mom, you were right. I finally understand.

Before I knew better, I’d roll my eyes every time I’d hear my mom say, “One day you’ll understand.” 

What did she know? I knew everything, and she knew nothing. Then I had a daughter of my own, and I began to understand what my mother meant, especially when my daughter went through an eye-rolling stage of her own.

Well, as you can imagine, I’ve been eating crow for quite some time. But I can now admit without embarrassment that some of the most impactful leadership advice came first from my mom.

While Mother’s Day is still fresh in our minds, I thought it would be great to pass on a few of the leadership lessons I learned from my momma and the Aha Moments that are still making a difference in my personal and professional life. 

I hope they bless you as they have blessed me.

1. Dress for Success

Mom Joy, as we call her, always looks like a million bucks, even when she’s wearing “just this old thing.” She tried to instill the habit of putting our best foot forward by the way we presented ourselves. She was right. Whether we like to admit it or not first impression do matter.  In fact, our appearance affects our confidence and influences how others respond to our ideas.

Aha Moment: I have found that dressing for success first thing in the morning, even when I have to work from home, makes me feel more confident and ready to tackle the challenges ahead.

2. Serve First

Mom had the unnerving habit of making her children go out of their way to serve others. For example, when we were guests at someone’s house, she would nudge us to get up and help clear the table or offer to help with the dishes. I hated it, if I can be completely honest.  But when I began my career and came across the concept of Servant Leadership, I felt like I was ahead of the game. Serving others first was a habit that was deeply ingrained in me. 

Aha Moment: I was once asked by a podcast host how I am able to build rapport so quickly. I realized that my first instinct is to ask: “Who are you looking to meet? Who can I connect you to?” before I make any requests of my own.

3. Take Risks

After Dad passed away, Mom received an invitation from her siblings to move (with her three children) to the US from our native Mexico. She sold all our possessions and packed our entire life into a few suitcases to the land of opportunity. “One day you’ll understand” she’d say to justify her decision to leave all we knew behind for a future with no guarantees. 

Aha Moment: Taking risks often requires dissapointing someone. I’m glad my mom didn’t acquiesce to my or my siblings’ sadness and dissapointment. None of the hard work that has contributed to the life I have now would have mattered without my mother’s courage to take a risk. 

4. Be the Bigger Person

Mom isn’t perfect, as is the case for all of us. But one leadership lesson she’s modeled over the years is to be the bigger person. For the most part, she’s been the first person to let go of grudges, to say “I’m sorry”, and to make things right.

Aha Moment: The first one to mend a bridge and to see the world from someone else’s perspective always wins.

5. Handwrite Your Notes

Everyone loves to find a handwritten note in the mailbox—because it rarely happens. Mom still sends dozens of handwritten notes out every month. To say thank you. To cheer others on. She does what some leaders are just discovering, that a handwritten note is one of the simplest ways to build a bridge to someone else’s heart.

Aha Moment: I’m still blown away that people  are blown away when they receive a personal, handwritten note from me. 

6. Ask for Help

Mom’s life motto has been, “It’s better to give than to receive.” Asking for help has not always come easy for her, but she’s discovered that asking for help is truly a strength. She’s taught me that asking for help takes humility, guts, and generosity—because letting others help blesses them more than we can imagine.

Aha Moment: Leadership guru Ken Blanchard likes to say that “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” Sometimes asking for feedback is the hardest way to say “I need help” but the most effective way to get it. 

7. Be Grateful. Words Optional. 

Mom is the queen of the Thank You note, but the lesson she always modeled was that the art of gratitude doesn’t always require using the words “Thank You.” Mom is deeply grateful for just about everything and everyone.  So when she’s in your presence, you are the only one that matters. No phone. No interruptions.  When a meal is in front of her, she won’t be rushed. Every bite will be gratefully savored. 

Aha Moment: I finally realized that true gratitude comes across as generosity. The more grateful we are for something or someone, the more generous we are with our expression of gratitude, through words and through actions. 

Thank you, Mom. I finally do understand!

What about you?  What leadership lessons did you first learned from your mom. 

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