Conscious of it or not, you mother helped set and influence your life’s direction.

6 life management skills I learned from my mother

What if your name is Circumcision?

Can life be managed just like your team at work? Did it ever occur to you that your mother had somehow influenced you? Pretty much, that’s based on my over 2 decades of experience.

As a manager, I can be a dotting mother and a strict one to beat a looming deadline. Working in global emergencies can often be the same as any work — but in full speed. One needs to be organized ensuring all hands are on deck working.

The schedules are often 24-hours (when you are in Asia or the Middle East and you coordinate with teams in the US or Europe this becomes normal), the conditions life-threatening and deadlines are hairy-thin because you’re working to save lives.

Skill that worked in most conditions? Decisiveness. Discipline. You lead by doing. You’re ready to do the dirty job. You rally your team like a cheerleader, not frustrate them. You are there when they need a decision. You take the risk.

You support what they need and everyone who worked hard gets the credit. You roll up your sleeves when the team is short of manpower. Take a closer look at these. They’re also done by mothers, right?

Some of the skills I learned from my mother I got to use managing teams and working with people from different cultures.

1. Never be ashamed of your name.

Her parents named her from the Roman calendar which memorialised Jesus’s circumcision rites on January 1. Obviously, they did not bother to ask around what it meant. My mom lived through sniggers and sly smiles because of her name. When I wrote her story for an online news, some bashers even sneered and posted insults about her being named such. People can be cruel and heartless. Imagine if my mom lived through this times and opened a Facebook page?

I learned grace and humility from her living with the name. She respected her parents’s choice despite what it brought her. Those who chose to ridicule her just showed what kind of people they are. It’s not the name but how you live your life.

Nothing is extraordinary with my name. But I learned to be sensitive with others who has this same issue with my mother.

She never got conscious (or did not show if she was) of her name. I saw a steely trait that did not easily flinch to challenges, no matter how tough they were. You cannot please or make people like you all the time. Just do the job.

2. Find out the dreams of people you love and work with. Support them.

Despite my mistakes, she never gave up on me. I still clearly remember her, arms on her hips, confronting me head on if I am contended dropping out of school and working in the farm. A small woman so thin you’d think strong winds will carry her away. No sir! She had stood up to so many men bigger than her and won by virtue of her confidence. She said, “Are you contented?”

Not waiting for me to answer, she added, “Finish your studies. Even if you won’t find a job as long as you graduate, that’s fine with us.” I followed the orders and of course I found a job. That simple decision brought unimaginable hardship for my father and mother who worked twice as hard in the farm to send me back to school. I rose to follow my dream because she never allowed me to give up.

Ask them. Talk to them. One way to win hearts (and cooperation) is to know the dreams of people I lead and help them work towards realising them. It is a privilege to be part of it and a sheer pleasure when they get back to you and tell you that they got it because you believed in them.

3. Fight for what is right.

She once stood up against a bus collector twice bigger than her size who gave her the wrong change after she paid the fare. I saw how the guy buckled because she showed who was right. This attitude also silenced her critics when she stood up to her decision of sending me back to school. In the 80s, putting “married” in your resume was almost a death sentence to your career options. She went ahead and proved them wrong.

Choose your battles. That will give you more energy to fight for the right ones. The recent #metoo campaign has brought sad and terrible memories of me standing up to a former boss who falsely accused me. But my mother’s voice kept me strong to fight for what was right. That boss left and I was vindicated. My courageous friends supported me all the way and I surmised because they know who I am.

My mother would always remind us, “Just fight for what is right. Be honest. What you do becomes your reputation.” Like a mother, I am always protective of my team’s welfare but I also do not hold back on someone who does not do the job well. It’s a leader’s responsibility to correct an attitude and provide continuing guidance.

4. Don’t just talk about working hard, show it.

Where did she get that energy? My mother grew up from a very poor family she had to live with a relative and work for them in exchange of being sent to school. When she became a teacher, instead of spending on things she missed when she was too poor to afford them, she started helping nephews and nieces go to school, too. She was already giving back way before the term was put together.

Too many managers think their role is to order people around. Some do not bother understand these roles that often lead to confusing work plans. A successful executive once lamented a misconception making people choose between micro and macro management. She said one cannot become an effective macro manager unless he understands the micro side of the work. I fully agree.

You have to have basic understanding and idea how work is done before you can successfully guide people towards reaching for the bigger scope.

5. Early birds catch more worms than those who were late.

She would wake up at 4 in the morning and start cleaning up the house, cooking and boiling bananas that she sold in school for extra income. The noise of pots and pans will be in a rising crescendo nobody can go to sleep anymore. By the time we haul our butts out of the bed, everything was ready. Breakfast could be scrambled eggs with tomatoes, fried rice and a tall glass with hot chocolate. Nobody was allowed to leave the table with a leftover in the plate.

The mantra “Be grateful you have food to eat while others are hungry” was recited to us quite frequently, too.

Every grain counts as a blessing. The food part I got reminded well when I worked in East and Southern Africa. But this also fits well with being grateful with what you have. Not everyone is accorded the chance. We may pursue what we want if we are unhappy but we don’t disregard the value of what you were provided. That could be the step towards the dream job or achievement.

6. Leave a space for flexibility.

The goal of getting me graduate from college after 4 years did not happen. Instead I got pregnant and had to quit. My mother never berated me for wrecking the plan. Instead she quietly told me I should consider the experience a test I failed to pass. She did not even tell me to stand up and pick up the pieces. It took her 2 more years to tell me that.

I am not sure why but it helped me see things along the way that I would have otherwise taken for granted — such as the tough life of marrying young with no preparation at all. The space allowed the reality to sink hard you do not want to go back to it ever.

Managing, let’s say a team of 6, cannot be done with one-size-fits-all strategy. Every person is different, even your own children. Thus, the need to wait for the right plan and timing is very crucial. The lesson on flexibility from my mother proved to me that it will take time and patience to do it, but it worked.

Last but not the least, do all these with love. Love your team like your family. Do not do to anyone what you won’t do to your children.

My mother, just like you and me, wasn’t perfect. She also had her shortcomings. She can confront people straight and embarrass them at the height of her anger. But she chose to live with my father’s drinking problem and quietly endured the humiliation when he quarrelled with neighbours. We all cringed at this every night.

Eventually her patience paid off when he stopped drinking. By then he was too sick he had no choice. My father was a hardworking and a very responsible family man. It was difficult to criticise him. She was quiet and non-critical but she never covered up his mistakes.

Good or bad, she stood up by her man knowing he was a good man. They spent very good last years spent together.

What did you learn from your mom?

Try to look back — they could be a treasure throve of lessons you can use running a business or managing people.

For more inspiring stories, please visit my blog

Wanderlust, blogger & aid worker for 16 years in Asia, the Middle East and Africa; in hot pursuit of people’s stories from everyday life. Blogs at

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store