We’ve all heard the criticism of “hard” women in leadership roles- the infamous diva stereotype many women feel they have to play to in order to flourish in a “man’s world”. If every coin has two sides, the other end of this spectrum is showing up to work as a maternal leader.
Unlike their counterpart, “Moms” in the workplace are approachable, caring, and always available. On the surface, many women may believe that the best way to avoid being considered high maintenance is to approach the work environment much like they would a family. It is irrelevant whether or not they are mothers at home -the simple fact that they are females and emulating a mother-type role is what earns them this reputation in the workplace.
But, as with any set of strengths, too much can become someone’s greatest weakness.
You Don’t Want to Make Mom Mad
Female leaders with a mom-mentality can bring several positive traits to their teams and organizations. For example, these women tend to:
- Walk the talk
- Actively listen so they hear what isn’t said as much as what is
- Diffuse conflict and redirect energy toward finding a valuable solution
- Help create a vision for moving forward
Apply these traits in a work environment and you have several marks of a great leader. However, there are several pitfalls to being a committed mother figure at work. In fact, some of these pitfalls may even support the idea that woman are unstable and overly emotional in work environments in situations where men aren’t. Sometimes women who take a maternal approach to leadership can be labeled or perceived as doing the following things:
- Being too personal; having unclear boundaries between personal and work relationships
- Playing favorites
- Allowing family dynamics to override work/team dynamic, eroding production
- Letting performance become more about pleasing Mom than producing
- Trying to include everyone at all times, regardless of strengths or how appropriate it is for the situation
- May find excuses for bad behavior rather than addressing it
- May get their feelings hurt too easily
- Seen as too accommodating, which is often perceived as weak
- May take too much responsibility for the failings of the team and not enough for the successes
Regardless of gender, these traits are unproductive for leaders and don’t add constructive value to the team or organization. When work becomes more about making mom proud or not upsetting her, team and company goals become second tier to mom’s objectives.
Why “Mom” Should Stay Home
Playing 'Mom' to the team sets women up for more failure than success primarily because motherhood is a subjective role, and that role is perceived differently by different people. Just as women don’t want to be perceived as cold and hard, women also don’t want to come across as too kind and caring - this is observed as weakness, even if it is a strength. Women need to portray kindness and caring in a different capacity through things like loyalty and engagement.
The true lesson here for women is to maintain balance. Great leaders, man or woman, know when to show compassion and empathy, but also when to draw the line and stand firm. The true key is emotional intelligence; women shouldn’t devalue their emotions, they just need to keep them in check and create a separation between maternal instinct and leadership.
Lexy Thompson has been coaching since 2007 and has had the honor of coaching hundreds of wonderful people on their journey to discover who they are. She is a certified Stand Out Coach, NLP Practitioner, Human Capital Strategist and Strategic Workforce Planner, and Dream Coach. She has facilitated Strengths conversations for corporate executive teams, non-profit organizations, government organizations, penal facilities, families and many special interest groups. The last 12 plus years of her career have been spent in the Human Capital and Talent Management space, working with people and organizations in transition. In 2011, Lexy co-created Fokal Fusion, a People Strategy firm that assists organizations and leaders in optimizing talent and building support for the competitive advantage of human capital.