Being a CEO and being a mom: Shared traits?

24 Aug

It’s a question I have heard before – does being a mom help with running a company, or vice versa? The best way to answer the question is to actually make some lists of skills required to succeed at both jobs:

Mom traits: CEO traits:
1. planning and organization 1. Planning and organizing
2. multi-tasking 2. multi-tasking
3. efficiency 3. efficiency
4. patience 4. people management
5. understanding 5. vision
6. compassion 6. passion
7. selflessness 7. commitment
8. functioning on 5 hours of sleep 8. functioning on 5 hours of sleep
Mom skills: CEO Skills:
1. multi-tasking 1. Planning and organizing
2. planning and organization 2. multi-tasking
3. efficiency 3. efficiency
4. patience 4. people management
5. understanding 5. vision
6. compassion 6. passion
7. selflessness 7. commitment
8. functioning on 5 hours of sleep 8. functioning on 5 hours of sleep

When I look at the list (not a definitive complete list, but good enough for the purpose of this discussion), there are definitely a lot of shared traits.  For a CEO, people management traits are most useful, whereas for a mom, especially one dealing with young children like mine (ages 8 months, 4 and 6), patience far surpasses “people management” as a necessary skill. Maybe it’s just my kids, but trying to “manage” them is like herding cats. I’m best off planning, organizing, and then having copious amounts of patience. For a CEO, patience is not necessarily a trait that ranks high on my list. I am impatient in business. I want things done yesterday.

This thought segues right into the next items on the list, understanding for a mom, vision for a CEO.  My impatience in business comes from the fact that I have a vision. I know where I want the company to be, and I want to get us there as quickly as possible. But vision is not really helpful in my mom job. It doesn’t matter what my vision for the day is — the kids always seem to have a different vision (theirs is quite a bit more messy, disorganized and unplanned than mine).  Being a mom requires much more understanding than vision. I need to be able to constantly put myself in my little ones’ shoes and understand where they are coming from. Are they tired and hungry? Is this why the current fit is being thrown? Are they upset about something I don’t think is a big deal? My understanding comes  hand in hand with compassion. The more that I have understanding and compassion, the better mom I think I can be.  In the business world, I don’t need compassion, I just need passion. Passion for the business that I run, passion for great products, passion for excellent customer service, and passion for doing things the right way.

The next two items on the lists are selflessness and commitment. In a way they are the same thing – just in a different context. At home in my mom role I have to be happily selfless. All moms know this.  Time and time again your needs are put behind those of the kids. You want that bagel I was eating? Sure. You are tired and hungry and need me to carry you, even though I have a terrible headache? Sure. As a mom you always take care of the kids before yourself — usually to a fault.  In business you are not selfless, you are committed.  As CEO I am the one to have to stay up late working on the contract, or getting through all the emails in order not to hold up a project. I am the one to have to show up at the evening affair and stay late, the one to travel to the event no one wants to go to but is important. Phone call at 7am? No problem. Interview at 6pm? No problem. It’s part of the job.

The last two items on the list probably are there because I am a mom AND a CEO. I can’t say whether I would need to be able to function well and work hard on 5 hours of sleep if I was not also a mom. It may be that I would still be so busy that I would not have as much time to sleep. But the piece of me that is a mom sometimes longingly covets the sleep that some of my colleagues who don’t have children get.  I can count the times on one hand that I have ever stayed in bed after 7:30 am in the last 6 years. It makes me tired just to think about it. But on that note, I need to finish a contract, call a partner, and  pump breast milk one more time, all before 5pm when I have to rush home, take the boys to Karate, then go home and cook dinner. Once the boys are bathed, read to and asleep, I need to finish the financial review and, if I am lucky, hop on the stairmaster for half an hour before I crawl up to bed for a few precious hours of sleep before the baby wakes up to nurse at 1 or 2 am. Ahhh, the life of a working mom!


4 Responses to “Being a CEO and being a mom: Shared traits?”

  1. Wayne tarken August 25, 2010 at 9:47 am #

    Thanks for the opportunity to post. A great article and insight. Most of the senior women that belong to our group either don’t have kids or have a nanny, au pair, or spouse who helps out. You’re doing it all by yourself. The epitome of being the Super Mom. Get some sleep soon

    • sabyberry August 25, 2010 at 10:11 am #

      Thanks Wayne. I can’t claim to be doing it by myself. I do have a wonderful spouse who helps tremendously and is also my business partner, and we do have a nanny for 9-4pm. It still seems overwhelming.

  2. trisquirrelon September 1, 2010 at 10:12 am #

    “young women’s pays exceeds male peers” – geeze what a groundbreaking message, spotted in WSJ Europe today


    So taking a closer look it’s not a general turning point of our modern society, enabling those to get a leg up. The imbalance is pronounced in blue-collar hubs and fast-growing metro hubs, writes the WSJ. Factors like the exceptional job loss in blue-collar industries come into play. The sad message is that “women on the whole haven’t reached equal status in any particular job or education level”. I therefore understand fully that once having entered the highest ranks, you seek to align your family with your business interest. Finally the family challenges feed back into business: soft skills, managing wisely threatening situations. I admire you and like your approach on defining your personal standards to excel in both environments. So from time to time you might take a whole day off, to recharge your batteries and to show others: yes, we can – its worth to acknowledge and support this tremendous effort for the future of our children! 🙂

  3. Cheryl Pope October 31, 2010 at 7:40 am #

    It is challenging being a mom and CEO but both jobs are definitely worth the blood, sweat and tears:)

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