Last week was an inspiring week. I was privileged to hear Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks speak on leadership and it made me think how we are all leaders, especially mothers. It’s not something we speak about in our society much. Mothers are either ‘spiritual mumbo jumbo’ martyrs or we’re irrelevant. It’s like the story that Gary Neumann told at Sinai Indaba about his wife. They were sitting at a high powered, women’s CEO conference where he was speaking. The table was doing the ‘so what do you do’ rounds, and each woman’s resume as you can imagine, was more impressive than the next. When the table came to his wife, she said, ‘I take care of orphaned children. I feed them, dress them, nurse them, school them.’ The table was duly impressed and amazed at such self less, Mother Teresa work. She then added, ‘Of course they’re my own children.’ And the spell was broken.

There is no doubt that mothers are under appreciated. I’ve come to realise that no one is waiting to applause us, thank us, give us that well deserved pat on the back, for clocking up thousands of kilometers on our mum mobile speedometers. We’ll be waiting forever if we’re waiting for that. Appreciation must come from ourselves. Self care, self nourishment from ourselves. And sometimes it seems like such a pain – ‘What I have to also mother myself? Not another person to mother, ppplease!’

And this is where leadership comes in. Seeing the value of ones role that we’re called upon in life to do. It just so happens that mothering is a common role. It’s not very difficult to become a mother. Being a mother, even that proverbial ‘good enough mother’ is a whole different story.

  1. A Leader is Bottom of the People Heap:

Rabbi Sacks (I will abbreviate his well deserved title for the sake of easy reading) spoke about leaders being at the bottom of the pile. They are there to serve the people, rather than the other way around. A metaphor for ‘old style, dictatorial’ leadership (or modern African leadership) could be the ancient buildings of power such as the Egyptain Pyramids. The peaky top symbolised the Pharaoh, who was akin to God, and the massive, heavy bottom were the people who served him.

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Revolutionary to this leadership model is the ancient Jewish symbol of the menorah – the Temple’s candelabra, which had seven branches at the top, symbolising the people and the bottom, central leg represent the leader.

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This reminded me of the role of ‘mother’. There is no doubt that we’re the bottom of the food chain, as we serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. We hold our children and husbands up, and without us, there is no toilet paper in the bathrooms. If we quit, thousands would lose their jobs. If we went on a shopping strike, economies would crumble. I could be wrong of course, perhaps we should try it and see what happens…

Rabbi Sacks quotes Martin Luther King who said, ‘We can all be great because we can all serve.’ So we need to, as mothers, begin seeing ourselves as great leaders, not maid servants, serving our children and families as we build them up.

2. We ALL Need to Be Leaders in Our Own Sphere of Influence

I don’t think much more than that needs to be said. Mother’s have the most profound influence on their children, for better or for worse. We imprint our children with their gifts and their issues. Whether we like it or not, we are who we are because of our own mothers. We’ve either copied them, or reacted to them. Either way you can’t escape the influence and power that ‘mother’ has in our lives. So I’m hoping to use my influence as a mother for the good.

Rabbi Sacks spoke about collective responsibility. Teamsmanship. Treating our family unit as a team, where everyone can lead and be responsible is an important idea. Teaching ourselves and our children to be empowered individuals.

3. No One Said it’s Easy

We all know a lot of the concepts that I’ve outlined above. I myself have worked on them, drawn up my star charts, given out chores. Heck I even got two Labradors who spent the weekend chewing up my newly fixed irrigation system (again). All in the hope of empowering my Princes, and bringing them up to be confident, contributing, positive members of society. And it’s an upward battle. Dealing with moods, tiredness, cheekiness, and general Princely anarchy. Even my loving Prince No. 4 has gotten the hang of vandalising every shelf. No book is safe, no breakable is unbroken in this house, as balls and little sticky fingers go flying. So I need to ask – am I failing as a leader in this small fiefdom of mine?

4. The Ability to Persist

Staying power marks a leader, says Rabbi Sacks. God doesn’t give up on His stiff necked nation. I think as a mother, I’m learning more and more, not to give up on my mothering because nothing stays the same. No behaviour is static. All of us are growing, including the Princes, as they navigate their way in this world.

Of course as Rabbi Sacks said, it’s important to consult when making decisions. Check ourselves, know ourselves, know our limits as mothers. God consulted with the angels when creating the world. How much more so do we need to learn and consult with others when creating our angels on earth. (Okay that just sounded good. They so aren’t angels, but they’re pretty wonderful little human beans.) The biggest consultation being with our husbands. (That is a blog post just waiting to be written.)

5. Believe in the People You Lead

I do believe the best gift we give our children, is our belief in them. Belief that they will grow up wonderfully despite us (and the school system). That they have inner resources, inner wisdom, and inner strength, which we can’t imagine. Faith that they are exactly who they’re meant to be, and on their own individual journey. It puts less strain on our already taut and tired heart strings, and it gives them the wings to fly free to be themselves. (Not what we think they should be.)

And here I think I need to go back to point number three. All these points are easier said than done. But however challenging mothering is it helps to redefine mother as more than taxi driver, tutor and food buyer. A mother is a generational leader as William Ross wrote, ‘The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.’ No wonder it’s so hard….