I recently had the pleasure of speaking to a small group of young people (still in college) who were interested in our company and what we do and how there might be a fit with their career goals. This led to me telling part of the story of my career and to this blog post. As I spoke to them and took their questions, I came to verbalize how much of my career I owed to my mother.
So much of what I am today is because of her and her influence – more than my education or just about everything else. I began to explore this more fully based on one of the young man’s questions. He said that he was from a small town and that the college he was attending was the furthest he had been away from home in his life. This caused me to step back in time and remember my life as a girl, growing up in a small town and thinking about my career and how I had gotten from that small-town girl to the person I am today.
Everyone needs someone in their corner as they are growing up. In my case, it was my mother. It was interesting to hear her talk about how she had wanted a career as a nurse or a teacher when she was a young girl. It was hard for me to imagine her as anything other than she was – my mother. She had eight children and a very demanding husband. Her confidence in me helped to counteract the messages I got from my father, who held an idea that was common in that era – that women should not be educated and did not belong in business as anything but administrative assistants or housekeeping staff. He really could not understand why he should “pay good money” to educate a daughter because, in his words, “Why should I pay for a college education for a girl? She’ll just wind up getting married and raising a bunch of kids anyway.”
My mother did not demand that he do it anyway, she just reminded him that he had always encouraged me to do well in school and that this was a natural outcome of that. She had such good people skills – a thing that it took me a long time to learn. When faced with prejudice, she used facts to counteract emotions and influence outcomes. I got to go to college.
Her influence is most notable, however, in the way I manage projects. My mother was very busy and had high standards. Her house was always spotless – never a bed unmade or a dish left in the sink. If Good Housekeeping magazine had shown up for a photo shoot, she would have been ready. Her children were always neat, clean, healthy, and well-groomed. Our animals well-cared for – coops, yards, and doghouses – all clean, tidy and organized. The lawn was perfectly manicured – flowerbeds and hedges clipped and neat. Everything that mattered was complete. She was always ready for any eventuality. Dinner was expertly prepared and hot on the table when my dad got home at 5:15. This was no accident. She had a plan and she was prepared for the next day – no surprises. She worked the night before to make sure that everything was done and ready for the next day. She did not relax until the day’s work was done. She approached household management like a job. Every chore had a name and a completion date and time attached to it and there was a regular schedule for getting everything done, whether it was daily, weekly, monthly or annually.
She also did not try to do everything herself. She was the Project Manager. She was her own client and made the decisions about what was going to be done and when it was going to be done, but then she managed her staff – her children – to carry out the tasks and followed up to see that they were properly done. She did not demand or order us around. She used her skills to help us understand how the chores fit into the bigger picture of how we wanted to live as a family. She used words and examples to help us see the benefits of working together to achieve the best outcome. She worked alongside of us when we were learning a new task, but she did not hover or nitpick as we mastered it. She gave us a pat on the back when we did things well and provided patient training when they were not. The bar was never lowered, but the method of getting over the bar was up to us once we mastered a skill. There was no helicopter parenting going on.
It is this approach to getting things done that I carried into my work life. I did not understand how powerful these lessons were until I had to use them in the real world. As I learned that the project management tools I used were very important – the timelines and milestones, lists of Action Items, risk analyses, process maps, etc. – I also learned that there was more to achieving the goal than just executing the project using those tools. The tools and processes are statements of what needs to be done, but it is the people on the teams we manage who actually get things done.
And in order to get things done, people need a mental picture of what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and the role they can play in getting it done. Sound familiar? That’s what my mother did when she gave us a mental picture of how she wanted our family to live. I now realize that her example of formulating that mental picture, putting together a plan to achieve it, getting her team to understand their roles and tasks, and then working ahead of plan to make sure that things got done on time is classic project management.
Thanks, Mom! Having a master class in project management every day of my young life has made all the difference!