This article was first published on ICMI.
I spent much of the past year working from my home office, with my middle schooler down the hallway in class remotely, and my spouse working from the library downstairs. It was both a challenge and a unique opportunity to invest in the lives of others – my teammates and my family – during an extraordinary time in our world.
Being a leader is hard work, whether you’re parenting your child or guiding your work team through challenges. However, it's also very rewarding, and can bring with it lasting fulfillment. Much like parenthood, leadership in the workplace takes time, focus, drive, and passion, and I have found that many of the same skills have overlapped.
Our children begin their lives as blank canvases, full of potential. We, the parents, are accountable for shaping these small humans into empathetic, compassionate, responsible adults. We use our experiences to teach our kids to be logical, while also encouraging them to maintain their creativity and sense of humor. While our team members are not blank canvases, they may be new to the field, and we have the same responsibilities to guide them.
We aren't perfect and we may not always demonstrate to those around us the love we have in our hearts for them, but the love is there. I learn and grow every day as a parent, just as I learn and grow every day as a leader. It would be foolish to say that every decision I've made this past year was the right one, but it was the best decision that I felt I could make with the information I had at the time. Author Judy Belmont said, "Forgive yourself for not having the foresight to know what now seems so obvious in hindsight."
Here are three important lessons I've learned this past year that have helped me to be a better leader and parent:
Lesson 1: Practice Patience
Maintaining focus for a full school day has been a constant battle for my child. Having to sit in one place all day surrounded by distractions is a challenge for a kid or an adult.
Not every one of my teammates felt that they could be productive working from home - whether it was their work space, having other people in the house during the work day, or a feeling of isolation. Remote work is not for everyone.
Although being swift to action benefited me and my team during the early stages of the pandemic, I learned that the same strategies don't work long-term for everyone, and that I had to slow down to allow others to walk alongside me on the journey, taking time to clarify the plan and genuinely listen to feedback. Though I am not a naturally patient person, I learned that I must practice patience to continue to support both my family and my team.
Lesson 2: Give Grace
I collect coffee mugs. One of my favorite mugs has the phrase "Live Your Kind" on it. It is a reminder to me that kindness is the key to a happy life. It takes very little to be kind, yet it can make all the difference in the world.
Accountability at work looks different than it has in the past; each teammate is working through their own personal struggles due to the pandemic on top of meeting their work expectations. Ensuring that my team has the tools to take care of their mental health is one of my responsibilities, but it's evolved and has become more of a team effort and less of an individual focus. We look out for each other and we build each other up by sharing our vulnerabilities and being kind, we show that we're all human and we are all in this together.
Lesson 3: Be Okay With Where You Are Now
There have been times when I've urged my child to grow up and attempt to be as responsible as the adults I work with each day. But when I've observed my kiddo needing to simply be a kid, I've stepped back and given him room to play and a safe place to fail. When my teammates have become overwhelmed at work or at home, they are encouraged to find ways to de-stress and rejuvenate. Our team continues to find ways to bring joy and frivolity into the workplace and celebrate each other.
The lessons I've learned don't make me a picture-perfect parent or a flawless leader, but they have helped me gain a better grasp of the human elements of parenthood that are helpful in leadership, too. I recognize the joys and sorrows of being responsible for others, and I firmly believe that understanding and appreciating ourselves allows us to do the same for those in our care. I try to remember that we’ve all had things go wrong and had to reach out for help; when we’re desperate, we just want to feel like someone is on our side. Be on the side of your team.
Holly Terrill [she/her] oversees the contact center and interactive services teams at Meritrust Credit Union as the Director of Member Support Services. She has over 20 years of customer service and financial institution experience and has supported the contact center for nearly 8 years. Holly is a credit union advocate (and comic book enthusiast) with a passion for her people. Her contagious positive energy creates an environment where employees are empowered to grow and thrive while bringing to life their passions, both inside the organization and out in the world. When not at work, Holly, along with her husband and kiddo strive to advocate for others, using their voices to stand up against the injustices of those whose voices can't be heard.