GUEST BLOGGER: Chantal McGee
As a member of the United States Air Force, I was the fortunate participant in several of the organization’s excellent training programs: Basic Training; Survival, Evasion, Resistance & Escape Training; and Undergraduate Pilot Training – to name a few. Each of these programs equipped me with the knowledge required for my job and sought to hone my leadership skills.
As I left what I now call “my previous life” and ventured into motherhood, I was certain all the leadership skills I’d acquired would serve me well in this new season. How hard could it be to lead small children after helping a Squadron Commander lead a group of 200? Managing one little person after flying solo at 600 miles per hour would be a piece of cake. Right?
Well, when you pull back on the stick of an aircraft it climbs, and when you push it forward the plane descends. It didn’t take many days of being a mom to realize the precious bundle in my arms didn’t operate in the same manner!
I also quickly realized the valuable leadership strategies I’d formerly employed needed to be slightly nuanced to function in this new realm.
- Set high, but achievable, goals
As military leaders, we were taught to set realistic challenges for our subordinates. However, this Air Force axiom of leadership was less effective in leading toddlers.
Our youngest, a boy, knows and understands his mother’s quest to end diapers. He can verbalize and demonstrate the desired behavior. I believe, with all my heart, he has the skill to meet this goal. However, until he decides the timing is right, I can set goals all day long…and then call in the carpet cleaners!
- Communicate the strategic vision
One of the keys to motivating those you lead is clearly communicating the direction you’re heading. So, as my first two offspring jostled each other in an attempt to enter the van first, I stopped, sat them down, and began my vision-casting speech.
“Now girls,” I started, “you are going to be sisters for the rest of your life.”
As I paused to let the gravity of my statement sink in, my eldest looked up and asked, “Is that our punishment?”
- Employ the sandwich method
Using this method, a leader gives his or her subordinate a compliment before a critique, and then, follows with another uplifting statement. Hence, the sandwich of the positive making the negative more palatable.
I’m fairly certain the creator of the sandwich method never test-drove it on a teenage girl. Getting through the emotions to the second piece of bread is a bit of a pipe dream.
- Leadership Development
Throughout my Air Force career, I received official follow-on training and on-the-job training. Motherhood, in contrast, offers no official courses.
If it did, the undergrad coursework would look like this: Late-night Infant Feeding 101. Advanced Lego Creations. The Art of Doctoring a Sick Household. Engaging the Interminable Laundry Mill.
A master’s degree would include Deep Conversations which Start at 11:00 p.m. and How to ask Leading Questions when You Really Want to Say “That’s Stupid”.
Moms unwittingly enroll in all of the above. However, we learn by watching, listening, reading, and (much to our chagrin) trial and error.
- The PCS
When I was in the Air Force, personnel were normally given a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) at least every three years. That meant that even the most challenging set of circumstances usually had a shelf life of less than three years.
Not so with motherhood. There is no PCS. It’s a lifelong gig.
And rightfully so, because turning a brand new human being into a full grown adult takes more than a short season of effective leadership and efficient communication. It takes an incredible investment of the heart. It requires decades of pouring into another free-will agent; expending years of life on someone destined to fly away.
And in that extended process, something wonderful is being created. Something even better than Officer of the Year or Commander of a unit. Every twist and turn, every victory and misstep, every tiny success or heartbreaking failure forges something of great value. By design, the enduring task of shaping a child, molding a heart, and fashioning a character, also creates a mom.