What Becoming a Parent Taught Me About Assuming Leadership in a Time of Crisis

Working mom
Member Exclusive

By Kayleigh MacPherson
Executive Director, Scholarships and Student Support
UCLA Development

 


 

Assuming leadership in a time of transition and tumult – parenting lessons that helped our team thrive during the pandemic.

Returning to work from one’s first multi-month parental leave is challenging no matter the specific circumstances. Whether it is a crisis of identity, scheduling, responsibilities, time, or managing the onslaught of individual, familial, professional, and societal expectations, with parenting comes an additional literal and figurative load for nearly every aspect of our lives.

Assuming a new leadership role in one’s profession can be similarly complex – like the adjustment to parenting, one becomes, at times, solely responsible for the actions of others. There may also be crises of identity, scheduling, responsibilities, time, and managing new expectations.

After four months on parental leave, I returned to the office December 4, 2019, and things had changed. I had both a brand-new baby and a brand-new leadership role at my institution. I was thrilled to get back to work and hardly considered the impact my newfound parental feelings and experiences could have on my approach to leading a team.

In times of uncertainty and transition, we are all tested, and history has shown us that effective leaders must rise. They do not step forward and raise their hands, but they are made from their ability to draw upon visceral experiences, to show compassion, make sound decisions, and act quickly. When COVID-19 moved swiftly into our world, upending our way of life, I drew from my own most recent experience of change and uncertainty – becoming a first-time parent.

Here are the lessons I learned and used to adapt throughout a global crisis, building a team that thrived amidst great challenge.

 

Consider your instincts

As we were packing our bags and preparing to leave the hospital, the pediatrician on call stopped by – did we have any last-minute questions?

I locked eyes with my partner; they nodded. “How do we know that something is wrong, like seriously wrong?” She smiled and shrugged. “If you have a feeling something is wrong you should call us.”

This is not a muscle we flex regularly in today’s orderly and results-driven society. Actions have consequences and we can predict them with a high degree of regularity. We like routine and order. We do well with this way of being. Sometimes it takes a new baby, or a global pandemic, to remind us that perfect order and reason do not reflect the ways of the world.


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