This is an expansion on the two minute video I posted to honor my mom, Mary Powell, and her 40+ year career. For any of you who are managers, aspire to management, or coach managers, this list should give you a lot to think about.
My mom did not rise to a corner office. In most jobs, she was literally and figuratively in the back office. According to her co-workers, this gave her a perfect place to talk out loud to herself. Her position and responsibilities made her the glue. I’d say the same is true of the role she plays in our family. She holds people, teams and organizations together. She might not have had the title to suggest that this was her role or expertise, but she did it anyway. And we are all better for it.
I remember my mom’s career unfolding in five chapters. She worked before both my sister and me were born (Chapter 1) and stayed at home with us until I was 2 (Chapter 2). I don’t remember this at all. (Bonus lesson: If you are struggling with the decision to stay at home when your kids are babies, they likely won’t remember either way.) Chapter 3 was spent at Commercial National Bank, later acquired by 5/3 Bank. In Chapter 4 she went onto the Northwest Ohio Association of the United Church of Christ.
Chapter 5 has spanned 20 years as the fiscal officer of the Tiffin Seneca Public Library. This part of her career was not only defined by the work she did, but also what happened in our family life. My sister and I graduated from college, got married, moved across the country (and back), started our careers, bought homes and gifted her with four grandchildren during this chapter. She’s probably attended more weddings, funerals and baby showers during this 20 years of her life than the previous 20-year segments.
While these chapters have included lesson after lesson, here’s an expanded look at the top 10 lessons I learned from my mom during her career:
1 – You can be a great mom, wife, sister, grandmother and friend AND have a career. Mom never missed anything in our lives, but she was quick to give us responsibilities to ease the load she was carrying. Don’t get me wrong, she still probably did 70% of the household work, but the to-do list from mom wasn’t anything my sister and I would mess with on a summer day or during a latchkey afternoon. (Note to my family: This is why I take my “to-do” lists very seriously. Apple. Tree.)
2 – It’s possible to work hard, have high expectations AND care about people. I’ve written about care a lot lately. (You know my husband exemplifies it, too, from this post.) My mom cares a whole lot about a whole lot of people. She also doesn’t tolerate crap work. Some may call this tough love. I call it the best kind of leader we can ask for.
3 – Have fun at work. We spend too many hours there not to. Things I learned about my mom’s shenanigans at work are not fit to be published in a PG-rated blog, so I’ll leave this one alone.
4 – The quality of your boss directly correlates to the quality of your life. Don’t be a bad boss. I am the leader I am today because we spent many, many, many family suppers hearing stories about bad bosses, low emotional intelligence (I learned very different words for this early in my life) and poor decision making. I’m sure there are similar dinner table conversations going on across the country, which means our kids are not hearing a good story. They are learning to not trust managers, that bosses are bad people and “working for the man” is not the life for them. My mom has had some wonderful, warm and kind bosses, too, but I don’t remember as many of those stories. (Note to you: What stories are shared at your table? What stories do you think are being shared about you? How can you change the script for the sake of our future workforce?)
5 – Let people take care of you when it’s your time to seek help. My mom is a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed in the spring of 2018 and spent most of the year in treatment. For the first time in my life, I saw my mom hand the reins over to other people. Her doctors. Her sister. Her coworkers. People showed up for her because she has shown up for them her entire life. (P.S. She is now cancer free!)
6 – Rise as opportunities and challenges come to you. My mom does not have a degree from a four-year college. That hasn’t stopped her from going after the next job. She started her career as a secretary and ended as a COO. For her, it was all about stepping into the next challenge, figuring out the next problem-solving opportunity, and using her experience to move the needle. She must have had good things to say when she was talking to herself out loud!
7 – Be the same person at home and work. Based on the stories we heard at her retirement party, we have all experienced the same Mary Powell. Talking to herself, sending stream-of-conscious emails, and dropping a well-placed curse word seem to be her signature moves at both home and work. It takes less energy to be the same person in all facets of our lives than to be only part of ourselves. How much energy do you exert being a different person in different places in your life?
8 – Treat your co-workers like family. You might be the only one they have. At her party, mom introduced us as her biological family and her co-workers as her work family. Some say to separate your life and work as much as possible. I learned the opposite from my mom. We often hosted co-workers at our house for dinners and gatherings. Mom hosted bridal and baby showers for her work family. Make work human. I think people like it that way.
9 – You can complain about something as long as you plan to fix it. Over the years we saw our mom get excited and passionate about things. This passion turned into action frequently and led mom to be a key leader at the local school, church and community organizations. This is why one of my leading management asks is that you can complain about something as long as you are prepared to be part of the solution.
10 – Homemade cookies are the best way to a coworker’s heart. There isn’t much to add to this one. You know our family knows how to bake, especially at Christmas time!
It’s a bit surreal that my mom’s retirement is here. Her identity at work has been a big part of her identity as a mother, wife and grandmother. We look forward to supporting her in the transition and will gladly have her visit more – talking to herself and all!
What lessons are your children and grandchildren learning from your career?
What shifts can you make if you want to impart different lessons?
Are you living to work or working to live? What can you do with the time you have left in your career to adjust?
Catch the accompanying video:
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