First of all, until I read this article on LinkedIn, I had no idea who Judith Sherven was. I still don’t really know. She’s some kind of psychologist, apparently. Since her work does not seem to appear in any parenting-oriented blogs, I am thinking this highly offensive article she posted was probably a misguided attempt at humor by analogizing a particular form of bad management to a familiar trope: the helicopter parent. I’m not even going to get into the issue of “good” versus “bad” parenting here, as even that distinction is so judgmental and dismissive of individual parents’ value systems and decisionmaking for their families that it opens the door to a separate analysis that would be distracting here. And, in any event, Sherven chooses to paint parents with the broadest strokes possible: all “mommies” are overprotective, defensive, and blindly loyal to their children to the point of compromising their judgment and ability to reason. Ouch, Dr. Sherven. I’m guessing you either don’t have children, or that you consider yourself a special snowflake of a mom who was able to overcome her helicoptering, “mommy-managing” instincts.
I want to take each of her five points separately, but first, I need to comment on the opening paragraph:
“Whether this applies to you—or to female (and even male) managers on your team or in your company—beware the ‘Mommy Manager Syndrome’ because it seriously undermines the potential leadership strength and strategic vision of otherwise intelligent and competent leader-managers. (I will refer to Mommy Managers as female, as that is most prominently the case, but please be aware that everything below applies to males who over-parent as well.)”
My response is this: if you are going to invoke gender difference, you had better have some science to back up your claims. It honestly doesn’t bother me that some writers and pundits argue that men and women are wired differently. I only ask that if you go there with your analysis, you offer some research to support it. It should go without saying that starting from the premise that men and women are “just different,” without first establishing a basis for this, is especially harmful when talking about how that gender difference impacts us professionally.
Now, my take on each of her five points:
1. “Overly Protective Loyalty to the Team”
Since the author implies that “overly protective” loyalty is the problem, while straight up “loyalty” is perhaps a good quality, I’ll carry that over to the obvious analogy Sherven is trying to make: Mommy Manager is to her team of employees as Mother Hen is to her brood.
Agreed that overly protective loyalty to one’s family/team, to the point of compromising the mission and goals of the business for the sake of making the brood happy, is a problem. But contrary to Sherven’s assertion, not all moms sacrifice their leadership role for the sake of making the kids happy.
Witness the classic example of two kids fighting over the same toy. How does mom or dad respond? Figure out a way to share it, or NO ONE plays with that toy anymore. And when a coparent steps in to make decisions for the family – even decisions that would reorganize the family hierarchy, say, new responsibilities for an older child, or moving a sibling into his own room – rest assured that Mom is taking a strong leadership role alongside her partner, no matter how unhappy it may make her children, because it’s for the good of the family as well as the individual children. Overly protective loyalty to the point of sacrificing leadership? I don’t think so.
Awesome Mom Management Skill: Loyal, Protective, AND Unafraid to Be a Strong Leader While Shaking Up the Status Quo.
2. “Defensive Attitude When Team Members Receive Criticism”
In this section, Sherven perhaps unknowingly misuses the term “attachment,” as this term usually has a positive connotation when we talk about the parent-child bond and the need for babies to form secure loving attachments to their parents in order to grow into healthy adults. Sherven’s use of the word here invokes this image instead.
The best analogy I can think of here is when a teacher criticizes a child’s behavior or academic performance, and then passes this information along to the parents. Yes, some moms are going to get defensive. That’s just people. I think the world is chock full of examples of moms and dads who can pull their kids aside and work with them to take the constructive criticism and use it make positive changes. Oh, and sometimes the teachers are wrong, just like sometimes upper level management is wrong. A so-called Mommy Manager who jumps in to defend a member of her team may just be, you know, doing the right thing. We should trust competent managers, and moms, to exercise their independent judgment.
Awesome Mom Management Skill: Ability to Nurture Individual Team Members By Receiving and Applying Constructive Criticism to Help Them Grow.
3. “Insistence On Team Collaboration At The Expense Of Personal Leadership”
Collaboration at the expense of expertise? I’m honestly not really sure what Sherven is trying to say here. See #1 above: a strong mom, like a strong business leader, leads by example, and does not wait for each child to voice his or her opinion before making a decision about what’s best for the team. If I did this, my kids and I would be watching My Little Pony all weekend instead of cleaning the house, playing outside, and learning to read. I’m going to exercise my seniority and well-honed leadership skills in telling my kids they need to do more than watch T.V. and eat Goldfish all weekend. I don’t think moms are any more likely than non-moms to sacrifice their expertise and leadership abilities for the sake of allowing each employee to have a say and ultimately collaborate on decisions that are clearly best made by management.
As for having a voice in the matter, haven’t you ever heard a mom respond to a whiny “why?” with “Because I said so”?
Awesome Mom Management Skill: Displaying Firm Leadership in Matters Best Left to Management.
4. “At The Ready To Take Up The Slack Rather Than Call Out Poor Performances”
This one gets to me, because we have all seen examples of parents who, yes, take up the slack for their kids in moments of weakness. I go back to the example of education as an area in which some parents would rather do their child’s homework for them than let him fail. But, as with the other examples, this is not the rule for all parent-child relationships. I know that I would rather let my kids learn from their mistakes than tidy up their messes for them along the way. That’s how they are going to grow. If Sherven sees this as a problem with managers, then why not just call it what it is—enabling poor employee performance—rather than pointing the finger at moms as the source for such behavior?
Awesome Mom Management Skill: Letting a Team Member Fail So He Learns and Grows From His Mistakes.
5. “Difficulty Taking Command And Standing Out As A Separate And Strong Leader”
I had to laugh at this, because Sherven seems to imply that mothers tend to downplay their performance and wait to be acknowledged rather than take ownership of their accomplishments. She obviously doesn’t read many mom blogs. 😉
But yes, some people, and perhaps women in particular, are quick to point to other people around them, rather than take pride in their own abilities and workmanship. Ok ladies, let’s work on that. But as far as her generalization here, I noticed that she again implies that too much of a good thing is what makes it bad: she is calling out “mommy managers” for being “overly concerned” with the feelings of others. So, a little concern is ok, but not a lot? Sure, I agree with that. But I think many moms know how to be concerned with the well-being of their individual kids without failing to take command of the family. See, like, numbers one through four above. I think Sherven was writing out of things to write about at this point, and just needed a number five to top her list. Oh well.
Awesome Mom Management Skill: Running It Like the Boss She Is.
The sad thing is, checking out the grandmotherly-like face that accompanies Sherven’s LinkedIn “Influencer” profile, and the fact that her writing seems targeted toward business professionals in general and not parents in particular, I don’t believe her original post was intended as a glistening piece of trollbait. I think she just doesn’t get it when it comes to the realities of being a mom, and that this piece is an example of why we need to forge ahead in our workplaces and careers, as managers and business owners, to overcome these negative stereotypes and prove talking heads like Sherven wrong. As more and more women rise to prominence in business leadership positions, it will become a lot more difficult for naysayers like Sherven to rely on damaging and untrue mommy stereotypes in coming up with career advice articles.