Lessons I’m Bringing From the Family Breakfast Table to the Boardroom

Levi Strauss & Co.
September 15, 2015

A lot of the conversations about modern motherhood focus on the challenges of balancing career and home life. Look how much stir Marissa Mayer’s impending maternity leave (or lack thereof) is causing.

Don’t get me wrong, as a businesswoman and mother of three teenage boys I’ve faced my share of trials and trade-offs. But, being a parent has actually helped me develop as a leader. Maybe it’s because the qualities that make a good parent at home — things like kindness, fairness and patience — look a lot like those of a strong leader in business.

As my boys settle into their back-to-school groove, I’ve discovered another clear parallel between parenthood and professional life. This time as it relates to the lessons I’ve been trying to teach my boys to set them up for a successful year ahead.

The lessons I want them to learn about how to present themselves and how to behave at school are the same as those I would give to someone looking for tips at work –though I’ll admit there’s a critical difference in how I deliver the message. Guidance to teenagers must be carefully disguised, since one surefire way to lose your audience is to make your advice sound like advice!

  1. You have one chance to make a first impression. Two of my boys are starting at a new high school this year. As they prepared for their first day, I asked them to think about the impression they wanted to make. Their behavior on the first day, I told them, would set them up for success throughout the year. My advice? You only get one first impression, so make it count. Introduce yourself to the teacher, shake hands, show some respect and sit in the front of the classroom. Replace teacher with colleagues and classroom with conference room, and I’d say the very same thing to someone starting a new job. It’s a lesson that will serve us all well in many ‘first’ situations.
  1. Choose your friends well. It will make all the difference with how people view you too. While we were talking about the importance of first impressions, we also got to talking about friends. Specifically how they need to choose friends wisely because the people they choose to hang out with is a reflection on them. Their behavior can be perceived as your behavior by association, both positively and negatively. They will learn both sides quickly. From a business perspective, who you choose to associate with — who you go to lunch with, who you have coffee with, who you go to for advice — matters. Align yourself with people that are going to support you and be positive about challenges and opportunities, versus the other crowd, which could lead down a rabbit hole of negativity.
  1. Put yourself out there on the skinny branches. This is a favorite message from one of my mentors. As my boys embark upon a new school year, I want them to think about how they can push themselves out of their comfort zone, both academically and socially. Not so they will get frustrated or fail, but because I think it’s incredibly important to learn how to push through challenges and get a more well-rounded experience. Putting themselves out there to see what they can do gives them a sense of empowerment and ownership of a new situation. The same advice applies in business. Feeling uncomfortable is a good thing — it means you’re pushing yourself and it will force you to grow beyond your boundaries a little. It also shows leadership and learning agility.
  1. Sell me, don’t tell me. The new school my boys are attending has an open campus, but I told them they weren’t allowed to leave the school grounds because of my safety concerns…and their ability to get back to class on time. It didn’t go over well. Being typical teenagers, their response was to tell me how my ‘strict’ rules were wrong and how I didn’t understand what it would be like to be the only kids left on campus during lunch time. Instead of allowing them to put the responsibility on me, I wanted to turn the table and show them that there are more productive ways to get what you want. Don’t tell me what I’m doing wrong, I told them. Validate my concerns and sell me on how you’re going to behave to make me feel better about the situation and perhaps change my decision. In the professional world, I often see people failing to take responsibility for their own ability to change something. My advice? Problem solve and take it from the opposing view for greater success. In other words, perception is reality, so find a way to change it. And in case you’re wondering, they were successful – we negotiated a bit and they’re allowed to try it. So far, so good!
  1. Listen more than you speak. One of my favorite sayings to the boys is that they have two ears and one mouth, and the way they take in information should reflect that balance. This is especially true in a new situation. Speaking without listening and understanding creates an environment that’s more adversarial, an environment where your message may not come across as successfully as you’d like. In the workplace, I give the exact same advice. Listening first helps you understand the situation or environment. It helps you understand whether you’re in alignment with someone or how you can communicate to validate what they’re saying and introduce a new perspective. It also helps support another saying that my mother used to impart. “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” -Abraham Lincoln

As a parent, I take my role as a guide and a teacher very seriously, but the learning definitely goes both ways. They learn from me and I definitely learn from them. My oldest, for example, has a really amazing sense of self. He is confidently open to new experiences and people, without losing who he is. It is so great to watch him approach life without hesitancy. It’s an attitude that I really admire and try to remember to model myself.

I think confidence like his is really valuable in business — the best leaders are those who can listen to others and grow, while remaining true to themselves. Parenting is probably the most challenging, but most rewarding role out there. While I am far from being the model parent, it’s my hope that by trying to impart a few words of wisdom to my boys at home, I’ll be teaching lessons that extend far beyond the classroom and the office. What advice do you have that extends from home to the workplace? (Head over to LinkedIn to share yours!) I am a firm believer that it takes a village!


Anne-Rohosy_3854As Executive Vice President and President, Americas, Anne Rohosy is responsible for the company’s overall business strategy and operations across all brands and channels in the region. In addition, she is a member of the company’s worldwide leadership team, an executive forum of the senior-most management that sets the global corporate strategic direction.

Her professional experience in the apparel industry spans more than 25 years with such global brands as Swatch, Liz Claiborne and 15 years with Nike, where she led the company’s commercial strategy development and apparel sales in the U.S. and Europe. She has broad knowledge across categories, as well as a proven track record of operational excellence, growth strategies and developing world-class teams.

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This article also was published on LinkedIn, where LS&Co. leaders periodically share their perspectives and expertise on business trends, industry issues, careers and the workplace.