What Mom Taught Me About Life and Leadership

I’m filled with happy thoughts when I think back to my childhood. We lived in a typical 1980s neighborhood that felt more like The Wonder Years than current reality. My memories are of driveway hockey games, backyard football games, and more fun than I can fully remember. Life was good and we were blessed. 

We had two main rules in my family: first, my mom better know where I was — and second, I better be home for dinner by 5:30. Going home was never a problem because I was happy there. Don’t get me wrong, it was not perfect, just joyful. And as I find myself striving for some unattainable kind of perfection in my own home, I try to remind myself that what’s most important is creating a joyful environment. 

My mom was the one who set the joyful tone at home. As the third child, I reaped the benefit of her parenting experience. Looking back, especially at my adolescent years, I can see that my mom did three things that distinguished her from other parents and taught me vitally important lessons that apply to life and now leadership. 

Be Hospitable 

My mom realized that teenagers craved community, so she created an environment that was welcoming to all. I hosted sleepovers for various big events like the Final Four, pay-per-view boxing matches, and other sporting events. This often led to teenage boys acting out what they saw on TV in our family basement — and my mom rolled with it all! Of course, my dad reined things in from time to time (a role I see myself playing in a few short years) but my friends knew that we could push things a little more with my mom. It was fun and welcoming, and they all wanted to come back. Therefore, my social credit rose. Thanks, Mom! 

What did my mom get out of it? She knew exactly where we were and what we were doing — and also, what we were NOT doing. Well played, Mom! 

Have a Product 

Sleepovers at my house always ended with something my friends looked forward to: breakfast. After every sleepover, my mom made piles and piles of bacon. And as everyone knows, if you want to touch the heart of a teenage boy, give them lots of bacon! 

My mom was known for her bacon. Looking back, I realize (and I mean this with no disrespect) that there was nothing extraordinary about her bacon. She just delivered it time and time again, which made it special. 

How special? I am now 40 and recently traveled with my best friend, who had been at just about every one of my sleepovers back in the day. While eating breakfast at the Napa Valley Inn— including bacon — he began shaking his head. Puzzled, I look at him. He responded, “It’s still not as good as your mom’s.”

The point is that hospitality, and having a product worth coming back for, led to one last thing. 

No Judgment Conversation 

If my mom had a personal motto, it would have been, “You can tell me anything.” Maybe it was because everyone had a good time (or that they were stuffed with bacon) but my friends told my mom everything. It was literally the no-spin zone. 

In return, my mom did not judge. She most assuredly used her influence to nudge us in certain directions, but at the time, it did not feel like a lecture. It was leadership!  Even as a junior and senior in high school, I could tell my mom everything. This is probably why I learned to share what is (really) going on inside me and not hide it. I owe all that to my mom! 

When I think about my home life and the kind of leader I want to be, I think about the instructive lessons I learned from my mom. I want our home to be the place where kids want to come. I want to create a “gotta have” product — probably hamburgers! And I want my kids and their friends to feel safe enough to tell me everything. 

Similarly, at work, I want my office to be a safe place. I want my “product” to be the gift of listening. And I want others to feel secure enough to share what is on their mind. In short, I want to be like my mom.