How Parenthood Helped Boost This Exec's Leadership Game

Building a better agency culture

These are all pieces of advice I've heard throughout my career—if you count condescension as advice:

  • "Advertising isn't kind to women in their 40s—they age out."
  • "Maybe you should be thinking about moving client-side soon."
  • "It's impossible to juggle kids and an advertising career."

I heard them more as my life accelerated through my 30s towards starting a family. And honestly, sometimes they might be true, depending on where you work. But agencies are starting to come around to what "client-side" folks realized a long time ago: Being a woman in your 40s, with kids, can bring out peak abilities as a leader.

Make no mistake, most of these skills are credited to parenthood, not motherhood. But studies show that while men are often rewarded at the office for parenthood, women are dinged for it.

At Courage, I'm fortunate to work with partners who not only support me being a mom, but encourage it. In our second year of business, we announced a parental leave policy supporting new parents with a six-week salary top-up—because having a new baby is the most overwhelming time of your life and you don't need to worry about money while you're feeding and keeping a tiny human alive. (Or in my case, two tiny humans.)

Returning to work after matrescence wasn't always easy or fun. Most of the time, I felt like I was failing in one or another aspect of my life or another: bad wife, bad mother, bad daughter, bad sister, bad friend, bad employee, etc.

Eventually, I began to find my way, and realized that being a parent had given me more than just the opportunity to witness two amazing beings as they grow. It had also given me an opportunity for growth and deeper self-realization.

Building Better Boundaries 

For years, I had complicated feelings around the word "no." Working in client service, you are trained to find solutions. But during my kids' toddler years, "no" became the most important word in my vocabulary. All of a sudden, I found it easier to draw my own boundaries, and construct boundaries regarding my work with clients. 

Don't get me wrong, there is a skill and talent to saying "no." But when you're saying it 20,000 times a day, you get to your 10,000 hours of mastery pretty quickly. 

"No" shows boundaries and respect that help foster better relationships, both with clients and your agency team. Last Christmas break, I was approached by a client who was hoping for a quick turnaround on a project. Our parameters to complete the work were set, and when our deadline passed, we passed on the work. In this case, a respectful "no" helped the client understand they wouldn't get our best work under the conditions laid out. Ultimately, our team didn't need to work over our year-end holiday.

Modeling Behavior and Culture

Modeling is a word I've read a ton about in parenting books—that we need to behave and act the way we would want our kids to behave. And it's also made me realize how important it is in the workplace.

People pick up culture from each other. So, unless you're modeling how you want people to be treated within the agency—what kind of interactions you want to have with each other and with clients—then no one is going to get it.

And part of that is being in the office sometimes to both impart and benefit from the modeling.

Assume the Positive

Lastly, a parenting concept that I've applied to every single relationship in my personal and professional life: assume positive intent.

My kids (ostensibly) aren't intending to have a tantrum right before we board a plane and purposely trying to ruin my life. The same applies to an email that comes at the wrong time that I interpret with the wrong tone. Or when someone raises an issue to be solved at the precise moment I'm leaving for the day.

Assuming positive intent at work has given me much more empathy and patience with my team and clients than I ever had before.

In the next nine months at our agency, we'll have three new parents. And those are only the ones we know about so far. 

I, for one, can't wait to see what parenting new little ones will teach them about life and work.

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