“I don’t care who made this mess, just clean it up.” “Say you’re sorry.” “Wear clean underwear; what if you get in an accident and somebody sees it?” You didn’t realize your Mom was giving you great small business advice when she told you to “eat your vegetables,” did you?
We all remember sayings and lessons from our mothers. Hearing them we may smile, but we rarely imagine they apply to our business lives. With Mother’s Day May 8, it’s a good time to reflect on how motherly wisdom can help us grow great companies.
Today’s small business owners and entrepreneurs have virtually the same goals as a Mom with her family. Think of some words we now associate with business: growing, developing, maturing, incubating, nurturing. These are words we associate with mothers.
The role model of mother as manager fits well with today’s entrepreneurs. Small business owners no longer just “manage” their employees, just as mothers don’t just “manage” their kids. Mothers also establish values, teach, nurture, sustain, motivate. That’s a good job description for a small business leader today.
In our businesses, we need our employees to think and act independently. We need to develop a team where everyone understands and maintains common goals and standards while acting independently and supporting one another. That’s just what Moms want to develop with their families.
Moms have developed an almost universal language, and it’s one that we as business leaders can borrow:
— “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” We’re all quick to size up people by external factors: appearance, gender, race. But when we do, we often overlook an individual’s true capabilities. Paul Orfalea was badly misjudged as a youth. Suffering from severe dyslexia, he was always getting kicked out of school as a trouble-maker. Knowing he’d never get a good job with his disability, he opened his own company, and built it on trust, communication, and respect for differences. He called his company “Kinko’s.” From that, he built a copy center empire, which eventually sold for hundreds of millions of dollars.
— “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?” Southwest Airlines is one of the most admired companies in the country. But they didn’t get that way by following the crowd. When other airlines built hub systems, Southwest stuck with point-to-point. More importantly, while other companies that competed on the basis of price kept wages and benefits low, Southwest gave their employees good pay, great benefits, and an atmosphere of “love.” Top management wrote personal notes to hundreds, thousands, of employees to congratulate them when a child won an award or commiserate when a family member was sick. In 2015, Southwest was named the 7th most admired company in the world by Fortune Magazine, the 22nd year in a row that they were named as one of the globe’s most admired companies.
— “I don’t care who made this mess, just clean it up!” When Mom came home to find the house a mess while you and your brother placed blame on each another, she didn’t care who made the mess, she just wanted it cleaned up fast. The Seattle-based department store, Nordstrom, earned the reputation of having the best customer service in America by using Mom’s “just take action” attitude. Nordstrom gives employees the power to do their job, and the entire employee manual was only one sentence long: “Use good judgment in all situations.” Wouldn’t every small business owner like their employees to use independent judgment and take initiative?
The values we learned from our mothers are exactly the kind that best equip entrepreneurs for business life. When Mom told you to “Wear clean underwear; what if you get in an accident and somebody sees it,” she was teaching you that doing the right thing, even when no one else could see, was the best preparation for the unexpected. Mom knew more than you or she ever realized about business.
So when you thank Mom this Mother’s Day, remember to acknowledge all the business help you got from her. Mom wasn’t just getting you to eat your green beans, she was giving you the basic nutrients for business success. Thanks Mom.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2016
This article originally ran in USA Today on May 6, 2016