A few months ago, I wrote a post about whether female entrepreneurs should hide the fact that they are mothers, and was lucky to get a comment from Julie Lenzer Kirk, author of “The ParentPreneur Edge: What Parenting Teaches About Building a Successful Business.” She said the following:
Thank you for this post! I had a problem finding successful entrepreneurs who are also parents because, as you say, so many people hide that fact. I agree that they should NOT hide it, and recently published a book for moms and dads that shows WHY you should not hide that fact.
I do like the steps you’ve provided because at the end of the day, parenting should not be an excuse for shoddy workmanship but if you do it right, it can give you an EDGE in business!
I thought this was a really interesting point of view, since while I have always believed that we can succeed in business despite being parents, Julie was basically saying that we can succeed because we are parents!
I contacted Julie, and she agreed to an email “interview.” So here it is, and I think you will find what she says to be an interesting perspective on life and work:
Miriam: I’ve always seen parenthood as something that can be compatible with a career, but not as an asset! How is parenting an asset for business owners?
Julie: The life cycle of being a parent and starting a business are strangely the same. Deciding to get pregnant and start a family is not unlike the decision to start a business. Sometimes it is an accident, sometimes it takes a couple of tries, and other times it works great the first time!
Being a parent gives us skills we can use in working with and managing other people. For example, who better to understand the delicate balance of delegation than parents who have left a babysitter in charge of their children for the first time, or the parent of a pre-teen during their first solo cooking attempt? Likewise, understanding that your teenage daughter oftentimes just wants to know she is being heard mimics many an employee’s need for airing ideas and grievances.
Additionally, as a parent we appreciate the need to guide the behavior of others (our children) to accomplish goals (grow up healthy and productive in a safe environment), much like the role of growing a business by leveraging the skills and talents of other people to achieve our business goals. And in both cases, we try to do all of that without spanking!
Miriam: Can you describe a few specific skills that parents have that are helpful and business, and explain how they are helpful?
Julie: Resourcefulness: I don’t know a parent that hasn’t, at one time or another, had to learn something about being a parent on-the-fly. We go into it knowing that there is no way we can know everything. We have to be resourceful in reading up on parenting or asking for help from family and neighbors. We can’t wait for someone to sit us down and tell us how to be a parent we just have to do it. In business, resourceful employees are valued and often a necessary part of a growing company. When our businesses are in their infancy, we need people who can do whatever it takes to get the job done. We don’t have time to oversee and micro-manage them we need that resourcefulness!
Vision: When our kids are born we can’t help but start to envision their future. We save for college, explore child care options, and make sure we have access to quality schools. For a company, having a vision of a positive future is good, especially when coupled with positive actions that help the company get there. How big do we want to grow? What new markets do we want to enter? How can we best serve our customers?
Creative Persuasion: Anyone who can teach a toddler to pick up or share his toys has mastered the art of persuasion. Those actions just don’t come naturally. Business is all about getting people to work together towards a common goal. Sometimes that requires just a little nudge (or creative persuasion!) from management.
Miriam: How has parenthood helped you in your business career?
Julie: Being a parent has honed my management skills (as described above) and also given me perspective. All too often we get wrapped up in an issue at work and sometimes, such as when we have a deadline, we need to have perspective. For me, however, raising my kids while I grew my business gave me perspective that allowed me to stop sweating the small stuff. I could step back and look at an issue in my business and more objectively determine whether it was really such a big deal – would I even remember this problem in a year?
Miriam: What advice can you give to parents as to how they can maximize their parenting skills in business?
Julie: First, recognize the similarities. Once you see the parallels, you’ll feel freer to use skills from one aspect of your life in another, though I would stop before you get to feeding a colleague and saying: Open your mouth, here comes the choo-choo Really look at the challenges you face with your children and how you solve them and don’t be afraid to apply an adult-version of that to how you relate to folks at work. After all, underneath it all we’re all just a bunch of kids in grown-up clothes! We still need attention, love, care, and feeding.
Miriam: Would you say that mothers develop different business-related parenting skills than fathers? If so, are they at an advantage or disadvantage?
Julie: That depends on the household. In my house, my husband and I are equal partners in raising our children. We share household and parenting duties. In general, the primary care giver will develop a better sense of the parallels.
Miriam: The time element: both parenting and entrepreneurship demand a huge amount of time. Do you have any advice for managing time so that we can give sufficient attention to both aspects of our lives?
Julie: First, if you’re an entrepreneur, you should be doing something you’re passionate about. Both starting a business and raising children are the toughest jobs you’ll ever love, and if you don’t love what you’re doing it is next to impossible to be successful at it. When you love what you do, it stops feeling like work. OK, sometimes there is that drudgery that has to come with it, but MOST OF THE TIME it is fun.
Also, most people miss the fact that balance should be evaluated over time. Trying to live each and every day in balance could lead to insanity. It is important, at some point, to devote 100% of your attention to the task at hand, whether it be your children or your work. You can not live your life totally multitasking every minute or you’ll never feel like you accomplish anything. Some days are all about kids, such as when they are sick, and other days work must take priority because of deadlines and due dates. You have to look at your balance over a period of time and make adjustments when things get too out of whack.
Miriam: Thanks Julie for taking the time to participate in this interview!
So it seems that there is quite a bit of overlap between the skills we use as parents and as entrepreneurs. It’s an interesting idea, and definitely worth thinking about.
Julie Lenzer Kirk (Washington, DC) is a successful entrepreneur and passionate about empowering others into entrepreneurship. She is a business owner, mentor, author, international speaker, community volunteer, and parent. It has been her ability to balance all of these roles and transfer that capability into a profitable work place that has won her and her company – Applied Creative Technologies, Inc. – national acclaim.
Learn more about Julie Lenzer Kirk on her site (she also has a blog), and check out her book, “The ParentPreneur Edge: What Parenting Teaches About Building a Successful Business.“