5 Ways Parenthood Prepares You to Be CEO

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Many of the lessons you learn as a parent apply equally well to leading a startup, says LiquidPlanner CEO Liz Pearce. By Liz Pearce (CEO, LiquidPlanner)

You can never truly prepare for parenthood. No matter how many books you read or classes you attend, the minute your own child is in your arms for the first time, you’re in uncharted territory. The ultimate responsibility for the well-being of that human being is now yours and yours alone. The buck stops with you.

In many ways, this parallels the experience of becoming a CEO. In my case, I held four positions at our online project management startup before becoming CEO. Although I knew the business inside and out and had read all kinds of leadership and management books, that first day as CEO, I was a rookie. Nothing could prepare me for the complete sense of responsibility I would feel for the company. It governs every move I make.

I often joke with our co-founder, himself a father of two, that parenthood is the best training ground for leading a startup. Many of the lessons I clung to as a new mother are relevant to my job as CEO.

If a Friend Offers Help, Take It  (And If They Don’t Offer, Ask!)

After six weeks with a colicky newborn, there were times when I was desperate for relief.  My husband and I were blessed with great friends who came to our house bearing gifts of food. If they even insinuated that they would hold the baby, she was in their arms.

As CEO, I’ve seen many up-and-comers resist taking help (or asking for it) because they fear it will make them look weak, stupid, or powerless. On the contrary, knowing when to ask for help, who to ask, and how to ask for it are critical skills in business. Most people are anxious to share their knowledge for the greater good – including those that are internal and external to your organization. It’s equally important to offer and provide help where you can. The karma bus drives in circles.

It’s OK to Make Mistakes, But Don’t Dwell on Them

It seems that every parent has made mistakes with their kids that are painful to relive. Luckily, kids are blessed with both an amazing capacity for unconditional love and a very short memory.

You will make mistakes on the job that are painful to relive. If you don’t, you’re probably not trying hard enough. Organizations can also be quite forgiving, and nobody benefits from dwelling on mistakes. Your team benefits when you take responsibility, analyze where things went wrong, and take steps to avoid repeating the same mistake again.  Likewise, if you think someone “wronged” you at work, consider the fact that the incident was likely more about them than it was about you. Look up and move on.

Be Resilient. Everything Looks Better in the Morning

I spent many sleepless nights as a new mother, feeling helpless and isolated. The hours between midnight and 5:00 a.m. were the worst. Something magical happened at 6:00 a.m.  I had a cup (or three) of coffee and called my mother. The baby woke up in a good mood. Everything looked better in the morning, and I remembered why I wanted to have a family.

To be just as resilient at the office, you have to dig deep to find ways to cope through the inevitable low points and make it through to the other side. When sales are down, processes are breaking, or a candidate passes on your job offer, remember that rough patches are part of the deal. If you get straight to work on a solution and persevere, you’ll find a smooth patch on the other side.

Take Time to Play

As a type-A control freak, it’s a challenge to take my mind off my to-do list and simply play with my kids. Play doesn’t help you check anything off your list, but it does open doors to creativity and to connection.

Much has been written on the importance of play for adults, too. At LiquidPlanner, we try to give everyone room to play. Whether it’s gathering at a pub to play pool or crowding around someone’s desk to watch something ridiculous on YouTube, it’s not ‘all productivity, all the time.’  We’re more creative and connected because of it.

Tackle at Least One Big Picture Task Each Day

While on maternity leave with my first baby, I was frustrated by having to do the same things over and over again (laundry, dishes, meal prep). It seemed like I never made progress on anything.  Then a friend advised me to do at least one thing each day that wouldn’t be undone in 24 hours, and her advice worked like a charm. Even if it was something simple like buying a gift or cleaning out a drawer, when I broke free of the process work, I felt a sense of accomplishment.

I try to apply the same basic principle to my work at LiquidPlanner. It’s easy to get caught up in the process work: meetings, email, reviews, reports and the like. But the needle only moves when we look up from the daily operations and focus our attention on what’s important (instead of what’s urgent) for part of each day.  As both a mom and a CEO, it’s critical to know the difference.

Women 2.0 readers: What lessons did you learn as a parent that have helped you as an entrepreneur?

Image credit: D Sharon Pruitt. About the guest blogger:  Since 2007, Liz has helped more than 1500 project teams overcome scheduling and collaboration challenges through the use of best practices and better tools. She has more than 15 years of experience in marketing, branding, sales, operations, support, management and business development. Before joining LiquidPlanner, Liz ran her own marketing consultancy. She also held product and project management positions at Amazon.com, Google, and Sony Computer Entertainment America.