Leadership Voices: Isabelle Meyer Stapf on How Parenting Lessons Can Make You a Better Leader
I recently read a Fortune article that focused on “women in tech” and breaking the bias in the workplace. It had several great pieces of advice like finding a mentor, learning to command a room, and finding a company that aligns with your values – all valid advice. But it made me think about one thing that I’ve seen great leaders do — which is to bring experiences from outside of the workplace into their work.
In particular, I was reminded of the habits that have helped great leaders succeed in their personal lives, or experiences that taught them important lessons, which they then applied in the workplace. In my own life, I have found that having kids and co-running a household have taught me more about how to be a manager than any business course or book.
For example, I’ve had the opportunity to safely test giving feedback, trying out different tones, and seeing how they are received. I’ve mastered the art of tough love – my son actually told me that, and I believe it’s helped guide him toward success – and adapted my strategies for the workplace.
I have found that not all of my kids respond to the same level of involvement and guidance. Some are more independent, while others benefit from more attention – another lesson I have learned at home that I also find useful when managing direct reports. I’ve found a lot of success in tailoring my parenting or management style to the individual rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Another lesson from my home life is to focus on the strengths, not the weaknesses. Instead of prioritizing a class where my kid is struggling and may not be interested in, I encourage them to double down on the class in which they are getting an A. Along similar lines, I try to figure out the unique strengths and interests of each of my team members, and coach to that strength rather than try to mold them into someone they’re not.
As women and especially mothers, we may sometimes feel tempted to compartmentalize our personal lives, keeping our home selves separate from our professional persona. However, I have found that it’s much more productive to integrate home-life lessons at work. The same compassionate leadership that resonates with teenagers can be highly effective in a professional setting.
Of course, you don’t have to be a woman – or even a parent – to bring relevant life skills and lessons to your job – that’s just my experience, and where I draw inspiration from. My advice for everyone is to pay attention to what you know about human interactions from your personal lives and find ways to use that knowledge to be a more effective leader.