Motherhood Memo to Marissa Mayer: Parenting Skills Provide an Edge in the Workplace

Yahoo Inc.'s new CEO Marissa Mayer is about to add another valuable skill to her leadership toolkit: motherhood.
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Yahoo Inc.'s new CEO Marissa Mayer is about to add another valuable skill to her leadership toolkit: motherhood.

A former executive at Google where she spent 13 years, Mayer no doubt possesses the qualifications to land her the top spot at Yahoo, where she became the fourth CEO in the job in the past year. But if the experience of other executive women is any indication, becoming a parent is a definite plus.

According to a recent survey of female executives conducted by my own firm, 95 percent of female respondents believe parenting provides unique skills that are transferrable to the workplace. Interestingly, male executives feel the same -- to the tune of 96 percent.

For women juggling home life and careers and parents of both genders seeking to re-enter the workforce, the survey is good news for showcasing valuable skills -- especially those related to managing and motivating others.

When it comes to motivating and inspiring, managers often find themselves in charge of teams comprised of people with different personalities who may not always see eye-to-eye or even get along. Experience with a minivan full of elementary school kids can provide valuable insight into driving consensus and soothing hurt feelings. And employees, like children, have a tendency to push the boundaries of the rules. Thus, being firm with naptime may help manage employees who want to be the exception with things like comp time.

The ability to apply past learning to new situations -- otherwise known as learning agility -- is also a big plus: Korn/Ferry considers it to be one of the most important skills for executives to master and a prerequisite for success. In fact, the ability to motivate and inspire others and possessing learning agility were rated the two most transferrable skills by the women executives surveyed.

(Note to Marissa: Your ability to juggle not only parenthood, but also new motherhood after the birth of your son in early October could yield valuable lessons that last the rest of your career. And those skills you employ in later years to get your child to do what you want/need him to do -- eat his vegetables, pick up his toys, etc. -- will probably come in very handy in the workplace.)

As the mother of a 9-year-old daughter, I have also found other parenting skills apply to the workplace. A big one is perspective. No matter how much we think we are in control, we're not really -- just ask the parent of a newborn who is getting up three times a night. (Marissa, are you listening?) The same mindset helps when the meeting you've been preparing for all week suddenly is postponed by the client.

Perspective also improves self-awareness, as one dad shared with me recently. Having convinced his 5-year-old daughter that everything her brothers do is not about her, he recognized his own need to adopt that thinking when dealing with his difficult manager. As this shows, dads, too, are bridging parent skills into the workplace.

Further, perspective helps when making and accepting "good enough for now" decisions. At home or at work, there is no such thing as the perfect decision -- only the best you can make given the circumstances, time pressures, information available and a dozen other moving parts.

The ability to prioritize, which parenting reinforces, also improves performance in the workplace. While multitasking is a key part of parenting -- juggling a baby and a conference call (sometimes quite literally) -- the experience you get saying "no" leads to the realization that focusing on "No. 1 priorities" is what really makes a difference.

While parenting clearly seems to help create more effective and flexible leaders, a large percentage of both female and male executives believe a glass ceiling still exists for women and parenting can hinder career progression. In fact, our survey found 19 percent of women postponed having children due to career considerations -- which is why Mayer, at 37, is considered to be both an anomaly and a trailblazer.

Being a parent may award you an "MBA" (motherhood business acumen), but will employers recognize it? The good news from Korn/Ferry Leadership and Talent Consulting is that employers, including major companies, increasingly value having a diverse population across the workplace and are committed to developing women and men leaders.

At the same time, women (and men) need to look at their skill sets holistically and showcase their abilities, including those they develop as parents. The days of going on your track record alone are over. In the workplace, you must make sure that you're seen and heard.

Whining, crying and kicking your heels won't do it -- but being able to manage those who do could be the biggest plus of your career. But remember, there are no time-outs in the C-suite.

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