What Being a Mom Teaches Us About Crisis Management (and Vice Versa)
To thrive at work, you should draw on your life experiences—and vice versa. When you’re a mom, crisis management is part of the job description, which gives you keen understanding of what to do in emergency situations. Sound fanciful? Look at the corollaries between motherhood and the three stages of professional crisis management:
Prepare: Be ready for the inevitable—and beat it to the punch if you can
Whether you’re raising a child or advising a Fortune 500 company, one principle holds: Effective crisis leadership isn’t reactive, it’s proactive. You need to plan ahead; define the assets, purposes, and values you want to protect; and be aware of potential risks and vulnerabilities. It’s important to understand how things could suddenly go wrong.
A crisis is almost always enabled by the collision of complexity and chaos. It’s rarely a one-off event. Often it builds quietly in the background, unseen, until a catalyzing event thrusts it to the surface.
Consider the extreme example of a plane crash. Planes don’t usually crash because one thing goes wrong; planes crash because lots of things go wrong—and the chaos overwhelms the pilot or the plane’s ability to manage them all in time.
As a parent, chaos is one concept you understand completely, and you learn very quickly what happens if you’re not ready to meet the basic unpredictability of life. You have to be ready to think, and act, on your feet to respond to a full range of disasters (your child throwing up in a restaurant or a sudden, worrisome fever). You know you need to plan for just about everything.
Marissa learned this the hard way. One day, she took her 2-month-old to the store to buy a few groceries. Once she got there, the baby had a messy accident. Marissa hadn’t brought a diaper bag, so she didn’t have fresh clothes or wipes. Fortunately, she was able to buy what she needed on the spot and do some “damage control.” Lesson learned? Always be prepared.
However, remember that there’s such a thing as being too prepared.
You’ve probably seen the diaper commercial where a new mom has read all the books and bought every product on the market. By the time the next child arrives, she’s reaching for three diapers with the baby strapped to her chest, while grabbing a handful of cereal off the hallway table and calling to her first-born—all without breaking a sweat.
In the end, what she needed most was not more equipment, but simply experience—the muscle memory of caring for a child. Nature provides instinct. Experience provides knowledge. And from that, you gain two of the most essential qualities: confidence and resilience.
It’s the same way in the workplace. What you need to prepare for a crisis is not a plethora of expensive tools; you need the organizational equivalent of a good diaper bag: a tried, true, and tested crisis management plan.
Respond: Know when you need to step in and take control
If you’ve taken care of the preparation phase properly, a crisis likely won’t feel as overwhelming as it might otherwise, because you’ve already put the right tools in your toolkit. You’ll have the clarity to make decisions and take the appropriate action to bring the complexity of a crisis down to a bearable level.
In a crisis situation, data, information, and requests stream in from all directions. So your next task is to separate the information from the misinformation, and quickly assess what’s truly important, what needs to be tackled now, and what can be delayed until later.
It’s the same with parenthood. You can have one child screaming in your ear about something that isn’t a true priority (e.g., “Where are my Legos?!”). At the same time, you may be dealing with something else that merits your urgent attention (e.g., driving safely). You can’t afford to mix up those signals.
Another critical aspect in crisis response is the human, hand-holding component. As a mother, you understand the importance of listening, being empathetic and supporting. And when there’s a disruption—be it a toddler meltdown or an unexpected allergic reaction—creating a sense of stability and calm, even as you take necessary action, becomes critical. Those same skills are also essential in crisis management: You must remain composed to manage the situation.
This is where your experience and lessons learned from testing your crisis plan pay off, because you can rely on your preparedness and instincts. Staying focused and calm, and waiting for an opening or an opportunity to act, can make all the difference in the outcome.
Recover: How you recover has everything to do with what happens next
In our personal lives, recovery can be as simple as leaving the waitress an extra-large tip when your child has made a mess at a restaurant, or sending a thank-you letter (or bottle of wine) to the doctor who went the extra mile to help you address your child’s fever at the last minute.
But sometimes it’s not so simple. Perhaps your child is very ill, or has sustained a sports or other worrisome injury. Once you’ve responded to the immediate crisis, how do you get things back to normal—recognizing that this may mean moving to a new normal? For example, you may have to help your child understand surgery means sitting out a season, or that that a playground fall means learning how to walk in a cast.
In essence, this is getting back to business. Even if you have a crisis management plan in place, if you miss critical steps, you may not be able to get back to business when the dust settles—both in personal and professional situations.
A strong communications plan can be an enormous help. Whether explaining to your child his or her “new reality,” or talking to your shareholders about how you are going to emerge more resilient from this crisis, it’s vital to be up front and honest, and offer both reassurance and credible solutions. This also means that you control the message. The goal, after all, is to recover from the crisis and bring things back to normal.
How are your leadership muscles?
Let’s be real. While there are many points of connection between our mom lives and our work lives, the comparison only goes so far. But our experiences as mothers can enrich our perspectives, frameworks, and methods to allow us to better understand how to prevent, respond, and recover from crisis.
As mothers, we are often natural leaders because we’re not responsible just for ourselves, we’re responsible for other (small) human beings—financially, emotionally, physiologically. Being a mom is about learning to think on your toes (or sharp heels!). Mothers (and fathers) do it day in and day out because, frankly, there’s usually no other option: you learn as you go along. That’s resiliency. And it’s every bit as important at home—and to your children—as it is in business.9