Female Leaders: Are You Too “Mothering”?

One of my clients shared a feedback that she got recently: “You are too mothering.” She was annoyed and insulted by it. Of course it was said to her by a male colleague, who is single and has no kid. She felt completely unseen and unappreciated for it.

(By the way, Men, by chance you are reading this: If you ever say this to a woman, especially one who is a mother, you must be prepared for a fight, and know that this comment will sting for a long time, no matter how right you might be.)

What are the qualities of “mothering”?

As a mother, myself, I would define it as:

- Caring, loving, dedicating of ourselves

- Being responsible 24/7: doing chores, all the grunt work, what ever it takes to be there for…

- Protecting, providing, serving

So when does a leader (or a mother) become too mothering?

- She starts to believe that the org can’t do without her, so she takes on too much. She becomes the martyr.

- She can’t stand the thought that her people might FAIL, so she tries to overly protect. She becomes the saint.

- She exhausts herself. She is an emotional wreck. She forgets her own needs, wants, and boundaries. She becomes a victim.

The combination of Victim, Martyr and Saint is like the iceberg to the Titanic, for female executives.

So LADIES!!! You get to keep your “mothering” qualities. That is how women lead. That is what makes us great. Because we are willing to care deeply, that we would do anything to serve. And we are creative, nimble, and a great juggler of many balls. We are a success story.

BUT you don’t get to carry a cross, or nail yourself on the cross, or even ascend into heaven while you are leading your organization.

We need you healthy, whole, trusting, confident, and having clear boundaries and judgments. So that you can be the great leader that we know you are.

I salute you.

4 thoughts on “Female Leaders: Are You Too “Mothering”?

  1. I think my “mothering” side has been an important quality to sending me to where I am going with my coaching and mentoring young girls. Without it, I wouldn’t have the compassion and drive to help them succeed.

  2. I know this comes up in my marriage too. Where it get’s tough to find the lines between wife & mother. Making sure that as a wife I’m nurturing but drawing boundaries, mostly emotional, that nurture me too.

    I’d love to see more on this… Thanks!


  3. Hey Mai, great to see you launch your own blog!Good article – short and sweet. It can be a slippery slope from caring, loving and dedicating to saint, martyr and victim. I’ve stepped over the edge myself. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. On the other hand, I have known many leaders and managers who show an awful (sometimes only naighty aswell) Iron Side of her Iron Lady Leadership style.
    from Miss Clinton to Miss Fiorina, former President at Hewlett Packard. Also in Europe: Angela Merkell, Teresa Fdez. de la Vega, Cristina Kirchner. Many female leaders has a sound narcissism which flourish whe they get power.

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