Attributes of a Leader
Last June I wrote Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Dad. That prompted me to ask myself, Can I write about leadership lessons I learned from my Mom? I don’t ever recall my mother in a leadership role, paid or volunteer, official or otherwise. But, she had characteristics that would be assets to any leader! Here’s a little bit about Mom’s story and her leadership qualities:
Mom was the fifth of ten children. At twelve, she told her parents she was no longer going to follow her family’s religion and she stuck to that decision throughout her life. Right or wrong, that took courage, especially for a girl who was known to be shy.
When she was thirteen, her father died. Mom dropped out of school and went to work to help support her mother and younger siblings. She was responsible and kind. She worked as a nanny for a wealthy family, sometimes flying with them from their primary home in Utah, to Chicago and Florida in the late ‘20’s or early ‘30’s! She didn’t tell her children about her early flying experiences, because she didn’t “brag.” She was modest. Many years later, on a yacht on Lake Michigan, Mom’s sister met one of the boys Mom helped raise. He told my aunt, “I am the man I am today, because of your sister.” Mom was more influential and worthy of admiration than she ever knew.
In her mid-twenties, my mother married. She and her husband had a son, my older brother. In the middle of the night, Mom climbed through a bedroom window with my brother and traveled to Jackson Hole, where her sister worked as a cook at a resort, maybe a dude ranch. Mom became a housekeeper. She never said a bad word about her first husband and never told me why she left him. What did that take? Discretion? Kindness? He was, after all, my brother’s father.
Along came my father, a 20-year-old photographer wandering across the United States in the middle of the Great Depression. He and Mom married. Mom was then 29 and divorced with a 3-year-old son. Dad adopted my brother and all of their lives changed. Many years later Mom would tell me Dad was their savior.
Mom continued to be brave, but in different ways. She and Dad became a team. Dad was, without question, the “head of the household” – remember their generation. But, privately they discussed opportunities and together they made their decisions. They moved to Alaska in 1938 and bought a photographic studio. That didn’t work financially, so they sold the studio and moved to the Pacific Northwest, where Dad worked for a photographic studio, then for a shipyard during WWII. After the war, he returned to the photographic studio, they bought a farm and he became a sales representative for Ansco, a producer of photographic equipment.
Dad was asked to become the General Manager of Hawaii Color Lab and together, he and Mom made the big decision to move to Hawaii in 1959, just before it became a state. Hawaii Color Lab was successful and was acquired by Technicolor. Dad was asked to become a VP of Technicolor and, together, he and Mom decided to move to Los Angeles. At forty-nine Dad retired and he and Mom moved back to the farm in the Willamette Valley, where both became artists and eventually moved to the Oregon Coast.
Where was Mom while Dad was achieving his professional success? She was beside him every step of the way, weighing opportunities and making joint decisions, working together to raise their family and, for a time, run their dairy farm. Mom didn’t have an official leadership role, but she was Dad’s full partner in life and family. She had the leadership attributes of courage, humility, wisdom, discretion, bravery, strength, kindness, integrity and work-ethic in spades!
Thank you, Mom, for your love and the beautiful example you set.