Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What Motherhood has Taught me about Management

I wrote about the Mommy Brain in a previous post as well as in a 17 June Irish Examiner newspaper article titled “Mum Knows Best.” As per National Institutes of Mental Health neuroscientist Dr. Pilyoung Kim, women’s grey matter actually GROWS after childbirth. We become smarter. Raise your mugs of coffee and say a toast, mommies, because your muddled brain is attributable to exhaustion and not to some post-partum depletion of your faculties. Hormones actually work in your favour.

Manage that Baby! photo by CapemayL
I’m positive this whole motherhood thing has improved not only my brain but my managerial skills as well.  And I’m not the only one who thinks so, either. Read this article by Liza Kent in the May 2003 publication “Women in Business.” In it, Kent says “the lessons a mother learns are unique, and I have found that mothers often are surprised at what they already know about being an effective manager, based on the everyday experiences in their homes.” And, yes, our articles have the same title. It’s a coincidence (thought of mine before I saw hers and I’m keeping it. It sums my main idea up perfectly).

Women, tell me: aren’t you better at managing after kids? One of the brain areas which Dr. Kim discovered improve after childbirth is a part that deals with planning and judgement - key components of management. I used to hear about people who could see one step ahead; about tennis players who were good because they knew the next step their opponent was going to take; about people who could manage staff very well because they understood human behaviour; and, most importantly, about people who could see the consequences of their own behaviour – and that of others. I’m now one of those people.

I know EXACTLY what my three and five year olds are going to do next. I have an intimate understanding of their behaviour and understand exactly what the consequences of every interaction will be. I know that if I find a promotional packet of stickers in with the cheese stick bag and I give it to one of them, there will be war in the living room. So, I wait until we buy another bag of cheese sticks and get a second promotional packet of stickers. I don’t distribute any stickers until that time. This is a simple example, but it’s all about understanding human psychology and behaviour in a way that I didn’t before.

Knowing consequences makes you a better planner and organiser. You see what’s coming, and prepare. You don’t leave the house without baby wipes and a change of pants for your kids, do you? Of course not, because if you did it would ensure someone wets themselves and has to spend the rest of the afternoon wearing nothing but an old towel you found in the back of the car.

A great deal of this understanding you develop as a mother seems to come from paying attention to the needs of others and being a good listener - key management skills. But understanding what someone is articulating – his wants – doesn’t mean you’re going to give it to him. Think of how many times you have to say no to your child in a day. It’s healthy. They can’t have every toy they see or every sweet they want. Saying no and meaning it, being honest, is also a good skill for a manager. You have to know where to draw the line.

Some of this improvement in my managerial skills probably comes with age (don’t ask mine, it’s not polite); or maybe it comes with motherhood. More likely it’s a combination of the two. In either case: I win! Oh, by the way, since the improvement in brains is partly due to hormones and partly due to interaction with the new baby, scientists postulate that adoptive parents and fathers also experience some brain growth due to interaction with new infants and the challenges presented, even though they don’t get a dose of post-partum or breastfeeding hormones. Dads: as long as you interact loads with your kids, your management ability can improve, too.

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