"My mother taught me that people grow quickly when they know you believe in them. She taught math in public schools all her life, where the kids didn't always have much academic aspiration. But her classes always out-performed the school, the area and the initial expectations of the students. She approached every lesson with the belief that math was something that everybody could do, regardless of their self-doubt. I'm not teaching math, but I am trying to get people to perform better and better every day—it is a beautifully simple lesson that conferring self-belief is one of the most powerful and effective things leaders can do in the workplace."
—Sarah Watson, Chief Strategy Officer, BBH New York
"I went to an overly competitive high school. In addition, I was a three-season athlete and had a lot of heavy coursework that I had to bring home and work through after practice each day. Over time, the days took their toll on me. While I never abused the privilege, my mom often reminded me to consider the needs of giving my mind and body a rest. She would often catch me burning the candle at both ends and running close to burnout. During those moments, Mom would come over to my desk and remind me that I could take a "personal day." These weren't sick days. They were just days for me. Days that I could use to recuperate and get some distance. To this day, when I catch myself in the frenzy that this industry creates, it's important for me to take a step back and take some time for myself. Mother's orders."
—Michael Ventura, CEO, Sub Rosa
"The first thing I remember learning from my mother was 'Be like a duck: Calm on the surface but paddling like hell underneath.' She used to keep this on our fridge along with another slogan that said, 'Don't get mad, get even; live long enough to be a problem to your kids.' My mother was an actress-turned-social activist, and she taught me two things that have stayed with me forever: First, when you are speaking, be clear, project your voice and understand your subject matter before you open your mouth. Think about the entire message while you are delivering each word, so that everything you say is in context as you say it. When you speak, you should move people, and they should have no choice but to be mesmerized by what you say. Second, if you care about something, there is nothing that should ever stop you from making it happen. No rule, no custom, no person—nothing. My mother was very active with a variety of boycotts against South Africa before Mandela was freed. We lived in London in the '60s and '70s when I grew up and we had dignitaries such as Bishop Desmond Tutu and others come over for dinner. Despite how controversial the ideas, my mother was never afraid of speaking and making her presence felt. Put these two lessons together, and it's lethal."
—James Green, CEO, Magnetic
[Image: Flickr user Rachel Kramer]