The first teacher most of us have is our mother. She shows us how to brush our teeth, tie our shoes, and look both ways before crossing the street, but her most powerful lessons are handed down by the example she sets.
My mother, Georgia Poythress, taught me how to get ahead by working smarter, she gave me tricks for being clever, and she encouraged me to dance like no one’s looking.
If you look behind many of today’s successful entrepreneurs and business innovators, you’ll often find mothers who cheered from the sidelines. Here are some of the traits that 12 of today’s leaders attribute to their moms.
–Mother of Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group
“I’m often flabbergasted by the amount of time some people waste dwelling on their past failures, rather than directing that energy into new projects,” Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, wrote on his blog.
“My mother always taught me never to look back in regret, but to immediately move on to the next thing. Our family budget was fairly tight when I was growing up, and I was always fascinated by her money-making projects, which were often craft-based, like building and selling wooden tissue boxes and wastepaper bins. If an item didn’t sell, she tried something else.”
–Mother of Leslie Hindman, president and CEO of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers
“My mother, Pat Hindman, is a highly ethical person, and stressed good old-fashioned values,” Leslie Hindman, president and CEO of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, told the Chicago Tribune. “We were never allowed to lie–not even a white lie. If we did something wrong, we had to just admit it, take the blame, and move on. I know that this sounds minor, but I have found it important in running my business.”
–Mother of Christina Smedley, global brand officer for PayPal
Christina Smedley, global brand officer for PayPal, was raised by a mom who was a teacher, school administrator, and community organizer. “Her proudest accomplishment was enabling her students to thrive,” says Smedley. “If something wasn’t available for people, she worked out how to make it happen and mobilized huge groups of people to participate.
“I hope that I demonstrate her commitment to people by constantly assessing what’s needed for our customers and by working across our business to make it happen. Collaboration with people is at the heart of what drives me, and that is a life lesson I learned from my mom.”
–Mother of Courtney Buechert, CEO of Eleven Inc.
“What you say matters less than what people hear and understand” is the lesson Courtney Buechert, CEO of the creative marketing agency Eleven Inc., remembers most from his mom. “As a teacher, she was a brilliant listener, and she used what she heard to build a bridge between what she needed to teach and how the student needed to learn,” says Buechert. “From that, she taught me to focus my efforts on helping people understand rather than on what I wanted to tell them. She taught me how to hear, and it is the single most important skill in my professional success.”
–Mother of Mike McGee, cofounder and chief creative officer of Starter League
Mike McGee, cofounder and chief creative officer of technology educators Starter League, grew up in a single-parent home with his mom, Teresa Williams. “I learned a lot about leadership from her, from all the things she did for her job and in the community, juggling her responsibilities, providing us opportunities, instilling the value of education, and creating opportunities for yourself,” he told the Chicago Tribune.
“Running a company and starting something from ground up is a lot of hard work. I learned that work ethic from watching my mother handle all the stuff that I threw at her. I’m still learning from her to this day.”
–Mother of Doug Ray, president of Carat
“My mom used to say to me, ‘Bring us your best argument.’ This taught me early on to think through what is really important and then fight for those things that are,” says Doug Ray, president of global media agency Carat.
–Mother of Kim Getty, president of Deutsch LA
“This was my mom, Rebecca Getty Mowry’s, advice when she was entertaining,” says Kim Getty, president of the advertising agency Deutsch LA. “She knew that the key to connecting with people was not talking about yourself, but getting others to tell you about them.
“Our industry is filled with big personalities and bigger egos, and many of us have a whole lot to say. I’ve found that the real way to bring people close to you, to build relationships, and to genuinely learn how to drive a client’s business is to shut up and ask good questions.”
–Mother of Justin Tobin, founder and president of DDG
“The biggest thing I learned from my mom is the importance of experimentation and having the freedom to experiment,” says Justin Tobin, founder and president of DDG, an innovation consultancy firm. “From letting me choose what I wore to school at an early age, even if it didn’t match, to letting me try new flavor combinations–who knew spaghetti and OJ went well together?” he says.
“She taught me that experimentation leads to the discovery of a unique identity and that everything in life and work is completely subjective. What one person likes, another might not, and that’s not only okay, it’s encouraged inside innovative organizations.”
–Mother of Fred Kiel, cofounder of leadership consultants KRW International
Fred Kiel, cofounder of leadership consultants KRW International and author of Return on Character, lost his mom 16 years ago, but her lessons of purpose still drive his decisions: “My mom taught me to tell the truth, mind your own business, and listen to your heart,” he says.
“I remember clearly the day when my business partners and I decided that we needed a greater purpose for the company than to just ‘have fun and make money.’ My mother’s advice rang in my ears, and after some serious discussion, we decided that we wanted to leave the world a better place. I figured we could do that best if we told the truth, minded our own business, and listened to our hearts just like my mother had told me.”
–Mother of Charles Hudson, partner at SoftTech VC
Denise Anthony taught her son Charles Hudson, SoftTech VC partner, to always work hard because you never know who’s watching. “I’ve had many instances in my career where this has proven to be true; people have tapped me for opportunities when I didn’t even know they were keeping tabs on my work,” he says.
–Mother of Shradha Agarwal, cofounder and president of ContextMedia Inc.
“My mom, Vendana Agarwal, taught me empathy around people, courage in adversity, and purpose behind decisions,” Shradha Agarwal, cofounder and president of health information services provider ContextMedia Inc., told the Chicago Tribune. “All three traits have been instrumental in helping build an organization and its culture. These are core values for the company. Being a startup, we’re thrown a lot of obstacles or hurdles, and the way we overcome those is with grit.”
–Mother of Shireen Jiwan, founder and CEO of Sleuth
“My mother, Mumtaz Jiwan, runs a large team of legal eagles and has a reputation for being an iron fist in a velvet glove,” says Shireen Jiwan, founder and CEO of Sleuth, a brand management firm. “She has taught me by example and over many late-night telephone coaching sessions that the skills learned in motherhood are transferable and applicable in the business world.
“‘Never stop honing your emotional intelligence,’ she told me. ‘Invest in relationships with team members. Understand their motivations. Let them know you are open to hearing their ideas. Pull your people up with you.’ She taught me that you win by championing others. As both business leaders and family gatekeepers, we are only as strong as our weakest link.”