About a year ago, I began accompanying my mom to one of her weekly evening activity groups. It seemed like a perfect way to spend more time with her, which is an increasingly more precious commodity as we both grow older. What it has become, however, is an amazing experience in changing roles.
When I was young, my mom supported me in everything I did. The entity of “Deborah’s Mom” would wait day after day to pick me up from after-school activities. She was my Girl Scout troop leader for several years. Deborah’s mom would deliver forgotten reports and chaperon field trips. Deborah’s mom was a cheerleader and champion, confidant and counselor, and, like all parents, chauffeur. She was an essential part of who I was becoming.
Twenty-five years later, the roles have reversed. Hardly anyone in my mom’s activity group knows my name. I am Anita’s daughter. My mom is the center of attention. Her skills and expertise are coveted and shared. The adventures of learning new things and meeting new people are hers. I am there just to spend time with her, to support her, and to be a chauffeur. I am Anita’s daughter.
In most aspects of our lives, our roles change far more often than every 25 years. Sometimes, however, it may take us nearly that long to realize that we no longer are serving or leading others in the way they need. Our subordinates may not have needed our direction for a long time, but they may be hungering for our support. Our superiors may be looking to us for more leadership and guidance than they did in the past. Our colleagues may be following our example and leadership, unbeknownst to us.
Wise leaders should try not only to be flexible in the roles they play but also be sensitive to when those roles change. As leaders, sometimes our roles and responsibilities are obvious; sometimes, they are subtle and slight. All of these roles are essential. And, while it is important to be the mom, it is an honor to be the daughter.
Deborah Southard of the Leadership Development Unit at the FBI Academy prepared this Leadership Spotlight.