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What My Mother Taught Me About Housekeeping…And How It Makes For Great Leadership

By Rana Askoul, founder of Changing Pink

We all have experiences that nurture our leadership abilities on personal and professional levels. I had my share of those experiences as a child and as an adult. As a teenager I was passionate about writing. My parents encouraged me to choose the topics I want to write about. They encouraged me to approach magazines and newspapers that might be interested in what I have to say. I did that, and it taught me decision-making, confidence, critical thinking and perseverance. I learned these and a lot other leadership qualities through other experiences down the line. Whether it was traveling abroad to study or leading teams, projects and events later on during my career, leadership opportunities were abundant. And then along came housekeeping.A bit over a couple of years ago, I had my first child. My career was taking off; I had a supportive partner and a nanny to help with my daughter and the housework as I went back to work. Soon after returning to work post my maternity leave, I was promoted to a senior role managing multiple regions. It was the promotion that I had worked for my entire career life. And then I pulled the plug on it overnight.

Now, I would like to say that I resigned because I wanted to pursue other dreams. Or perhaps, I could say that I was getting into my comfort zone and needed a different challenge. That would sound good, wouldn’t it? But I really did it because of the good old reasons of why women leave corporates when they start getting more senior. Simply put, it was just not enough return for the amount of investment I was putting in. On one glorious day and as I was plugging through a number of uninspiring “senior-job-type” of emails, I realized it was simply not working for me. The long hours, the “you need to be plugged in 24/7” attitude and the type of work I was doing, senior or not, was not worth the sacrifice of my personal and family time, regardless of the paycheck. And so I quit, and decided to run my own business.

Overnight, my life had completely changed. I started working on establishing my business from scratch. I was working on content, product and business development. I was doing research and marketing, connecting to people and building my website. I was tapping into every single skill set I had acquired over the years, and they all came in handy. And overnight, I had a full-on household to run. To clarify further, I had let go of my nanny then.

With the new addition to our family, household responsibilities were now bigger.  Takeaway dinners would no longer do. And despite a supportive partner who would not hesitate to roll up his sleeves and help around, housekeeping was yet another challenge to add to the list of challenges of my new life. Two years on, housekeeping has taught me my biggest lessons in leadership. And before I have scores of feminists jumping at my throat for the mere mention of “housekeeping” in a leadership article, allow me to further explain.

My mother is a perfectionist. Growing up, I watched her work a full-time job raising three children and running her house like clockwork, with no help. With the new household responsibilities that I had, I tapped into the reservoir of housekeeping rules that I learned from my mother. As I sit back and reflect on these “rules of engagement”, I realize how they make for great leadership. And here is how they go:

1.    It’s a lot of hard work

Running a household is a lot of hard work, and there are no shortcuts. There might be tips and tricks that you can employ to make it easier, but at the end of the day, it requires dedication, commitment and a lot of effort. Estee Lauder has famously said once: “I never dreamed about success, I worked for it”. Every successful person I know of or read about has always worked very hard to get to where they want to be. True great leaders are always the first ones in and last ones out and they are always the ones who are fully vested in the work they do, inspiring similar behavior and commitment in those they lead.

2. You can’t firefight, you have to be proactive

Sometimes, we can see it coming and yet choose not to address it. In household terms, this is the small water leak in the bathroom that eventually causes a massive flood and have you taking the day off work to deal with it. In leadership terms, this is the underperforming employee whom you don’t want to confront and address his/her behavior until you have an unsatisfied customer taking his/her business somewhere else. Being proactive can be uncomfortable and a bit of a nuisance. But water leaks don’t disappear on their own.

3. “Keep your hand in the Kitchen”

My mum’s kitchen was always her top priority. She kept it clean and organized at all times. As she tidied up the kitchen daily, she would look at me and tell me: “Always keep your hand in the kitchen”. Mum’s philosophy was that if you run daily checks, you would only need to do little maintenance work. If you left things for too long, you will have a bigger mess to tackle. A great leader I once worked with would run daily meetings with his direct team and weekly meetings with his extended team. His aim was to keep his hand on the pulse of the organization. To understand what’s working and what’s not and to make it so frequent that if intervention and guidance is needed, its done so swiftly and painlessly.

4. The devil is in the detail

Housework contains a lot of monotonous, uninspiring and detail driven activities. But in order for things to work, you have to take care of all the nuts and bolts.  Leadership is not only about the glamour of innovation but is also about getting under the skin of the business.  After all, it was Steve Job’s relentless attention to detail that made him stand out as a leader.

5. Structure, Structure and Structure

Time is a precious commodity, especially when you are trying to do so much in the given 24 hours a day. You therefore can’t simply roll up your sleeves and dive into work. My mother has unwritten rules about housekeeping schedules, how they need to be structured and organized, how to execute on them and how to improve them over time. Similarly, great leaders define objectives, develop process and road maps, pinpoint roles and responsibilities, develop timelines and schedules, establish milestones and checkpoints, determine success metrics, and identify control mechanisms.

Sometime ago, I came across a quote by Christian Amanpour that read as follows: “A woman who runs her family well can also run the world”. I now understand why.


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