What Mothers Can Teach Us About Women in Leadership

A CEO and executive conversing on a couch.

*As first published on Forbes.com

Growing up in a big Italian family with lots of aunts, uncles and cousins meant I had to learn some indispensable leadership skills at a very early age. At the top of the list were skills like listening (plenty of stories were told), nonverbal communication (yes, it’s true that we use our hands to talk!) and negotiation (dinnertime doubled as a spirited debate forum).

My father was amazing and gave me a great model to follow after, but some of the most impactful lessons in leadership came directly from the professional life of my mother.

My parents divorced when I was still a little boy, and my mother juggled the impossible duty of raising three boys while maintaining her own professional career. This was during a time when it was much less prominent to be a working single mother. Nonetheless, she refused to let the difficult circumstances of her life dictate her future. Every day she made the decision to be a leader.

She exhibited her leadership qualities so remarkably well that even I, a young boy at the time, could recognize them. As I grew older, I began noticing a trend. There were four particular qualities she possessed that I consistently saw in other women leaders – then and especially now.

My guess is that if you take a good look at the successful women leaders in your life, you’ll likely see these traits as well.

1. Determination

Despite having some very legitimate reasons for despondency, my mother was never one to throw a pity party. Not only did she take on the tall task of rearing three boys, but she also underwent significant hardships in her careers in the dental, banking and real estate industries just for being a woman. No one would have faulted her had she decided to wallow in despair.

Address these challenges head-on and never feel sorry for yourself. The best women leaders today possess this unique trait. Your undaunted attitude will have an indelible impact on your followers and forever shape your definition of leadership.

2. Confidence

We lived in Palm Beach, Florida, surrounded by some of the wealthiest entrepreneurs and business tycoons in the country. While we weren’t poor, we had a hard work life. It was my mother’s prerogative to live near those who had found success so she could learn from them and be inspired by them.

She firmly believed that success is earned and that there was no such thing as shortcuts. It never crossed her mind to tap into the elite Palm Beach community for a cushy job. She took pride in hard work and believed the journey was just as important as the destination — a true, self-made woman.

An unentitled approach is endearing and makes you a winsome leader among your peers.

3. Selflessness

Everything my mother did was for the sake of my brothers and me. When she wasn’t hard at work earning an honest income, she was teaching her three boys how to become men. She happily kept her own interests in perspective and made her children a top priority. So many women leaders today embody this trait and never get the credit.

This kind of selflessness – servant leadership, if you will — is a hallmark quality of true leadership today, in both women and men.

4. Steadfastness

Our mother was the rock of our family. Regardless of the circumstances, my brothers and I were comforted by the fact that we could count on her.

I’m not saying she didn’t make mistakes; no one is perfect after all. But she was always there for us. No matter how difficult it was to manage everything on her plate, at work or at home, like so many leaders today, she was charging ahead without ever seeming to tire. In fact, she continued to work until she was 85 years old!

An indefatigable spirit and a “never give up” mentality make you a leader worth following.

Common Strengths, Common Struggles

During my 35-year tenure in the automotive, marine, recreational vehicle and motorsports industries, I worked with thousands of dealerships and saw female employees in all positions and capacities: individual contributors, managers, leaders and leaders of leaders. They were standouts in the corporate environments I worked in as well.

As I observed these strong women in action, I recognized these same leadership standards: determination, confidence, selflessness and steadfastness. They brought a new voice, a new strength and an important perspective to decision making.

Since I’ve been a business coach and exit planning strategist, I’ve had the privilege of working with remarkable leaders, and yet, many of these accomplished women continue to experience undue obstacles that most of their male counterparts never have to overcome. Some of the most successful companies have women in leadership positions who are driving those companies to sustained growth. They’re not women leaders – they’re leaders.

The Fight For Parity

The way the world works has certainly improved since the days when women were fighting for a place at the table, but the truth is that we still have plenty of work left to do in the fight for parity. How we fight for equality will look different from person to person, but we each have our own spheres of influence in which we can make an impact.

My hope is that women in leadership can receive the unique encouragement and guidance that can come only from other successful women in leadership. After all, my mom taught me everything I know about leadership.

Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches.
Clark Vitulli is a Certified Exit Planning Consultant. He is a CEO with hands-on leadership experience with large OEM corporations and retail businesses. He has valuable qualifications from his vast background in turn-arounds, brand building, manufacturing and product launches. Importantly, he has executed successful start-ups, acquisitions and exits. If you’re looking for vistage, executive coaching or leadership coaching, contact Music City CEOs today.

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