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By Jan Bolick Jan Bolick is Founder and President of Business Class Inc which specializes in working with leaders to build positive, productive, results oriented service culture.

Lessons from Mom

By Jan Bolick Posted April 27, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Only one week until Mothers Day…a good time to think about lessons from our mothers that have helped us in business.

Here are a few things I learned from mine. I hope you’ll read, enjoy and then share some stories of your own.

Mom went shopping at Bobbitt’s Pharmacy. Two days later, she realized she hadn’t been charged for a $3.00 item. We drove back to Bobbitt’s with item and receipt in hand, so she could “prove” she hadn’t paid for it. She gave the cashier $3.00 and apologized profusely that she hadn’t realized it sooner. She was concerned for the person who had tried (unsuccessfully) to balance the cash register drawer two days before. The cashier was grateful and a bit surprised. It seems that kind of thing didn’t happen very often.

It isn’t unusual to be told about the importance of honesty – especially if there is a risk of getting caught.

Seeing someone demonstrate honesty – even when there is no chance of getting caught – or even after already “getting away with it” – is a true and powerful gift – one that makes it possible to build rock solid foundations of trust with others.

Mom also taught us about education.

Though her “formal” education ended long before I was born, she never stopped going to school. She took classes at Salem College, Forsyth Tech, The School of the Arts, Wake Forest University, The Reynolda House, The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Arts, and on and on. Even if she wasn’t enrolled in a class, she frequently had a book in her lap.

She didn’t “preach” about education. She just showed us through example that there is so much to learn, so much to explore and that it’s fun to do it – for as long as you live.

A powerful gift – even more so now in our rapid world of change.

She taught us that answers and explanations can frequently be found in unexpected places.

In the 6th grade, I ran for Secretary of Brunson Elementary School. It was time to write my campaign speech and I had no idea what to say.

Knowing how I loved to cook, she said, “Why don’t you look in a cookbook?”

In my “what a dumb, idea, Mom” tone of voice, I said, “Why would I do that?”

But I was desperate, picked up a cookbook and flipped through the pages. Then it hit me! What if I made up a Recipe for a Good Secretary? You know – 2 cups of good handwriting, 2 cups of dependability, etc.

My speech was a success. I won the election.

Even more important – I learned the value of looking in unusual places for answers and explanations – a very helpful tool when working with clients who are in tough situations, have tried everything and need a different perspective.

Mom also taught the value of encouragement.

At 9 years old, I was very nervous about going off to summer camp for the very first time. Now that I’m a Mom, I realize that she was most likely even more nervous.

When I arrived and opened the Army green foot locker that I had so carefully packed for the week, I found a surprise. She must have snuck into the locker after my packing job because pinned to each pair of shorts was a note – daily words of support and encouragement from home.

Camp was a breeze. When Mom and Dad came to pick me up, I cried. They thought it was because I didn’t want to go home. There may have been a touch of regret – but more of it was relief and pride that I had “made it”!

Sure – I would have made it without these notes. But having them made it easier. She gave me a little support in making it on my own. She also made me feel appreciated and special.

Thirteen years later, I became a manager. I signed all the paychecks and remembering the power of my Mom’s notes, wrote a personal note on each person’s check. For one, it might be a congratulatory note on signing a new contract. For another, it might be a thank you for working extra hours. And then on payday, delivered each person’s check, shook their hand, said “thank you” and left them alone to read whatever I had written.

Initially the preparation of these personalized paychecks didn’t take very long. As our company grew and our staff grew – the project took three to four hours each pay period – six to eight hours per month – a big chunk of time considering other demands of the job.

After about six years of this, we went to an automated payroll system. The checks were prepared and signed by a computer. They arrived at our office in sealed envelopes and were placed in each person’s mailbox.

It was no longer possible for me to write notes. I was somewhat relieved by being forced to let go of this time-consuming chore and chased away any regret by saying to myself, “They probably didn’t care about those notes anyway.”

A few months into this new system – several members of my team let me know how much they missed my notes – saying they always eagerly opened the envelope – anxious to see what I had said “this time”. Some even showed me file folders or drawers or boxes where they kept such notes of encouragement – to refer to in tough times.

It seems that my notes gave them strength and courage to do their jobs without me – more so than I even imagined. The notes also gave them reassurance that they were appreciated – a powerful motivator.

It became very important for me to find another way to give that support and encouragement – a subject for another article.

One more thing about my Mom.

There was never a question that Mom would prefer to have us right by her side. It was also clear that she considered it her job to give us the knowledge and tools needed to “leave the nest”.
In her “mothering” she modeled good management. Not hanging on to manage every little thing – not preventing every little fall or fixing every mistake or solving every problem – but giving each team member the knowledge and tools needed – and then stepping aside – letting them do it – coaching or correcting when necessary – and then stepping aside again.

The sign of a superior business owner or manager is that things run smoothly when he or she is not around. It’s the sign of a good Mom, too. (see Quote of the Week: for Managers & Mother’s Day).

Mom died nineteen years ago. I miss her terribly, yet continue to learn and be supported by her every day.

Just like the notes she left “pinned to my shorts” when I went to camp, she left me in this world with words of encouragement, support and wisdom in the form of visions and memories – some at the front of my mind – some archived in the hard drive somewhere.

All I have to do is slow down, retrieve them and learn from them. It fascinates me the way the same stories and memories bring different lessons as I grow and experience more of life.
Mother’s Day is a good day to retrieve those memories – celebrate them, be grateful for them, learn from them.

Actually – every day is a good day for that.

During this week before Mother’s day, will you share a thing or two that you learned from your mother? Things that have helped you in business? Or in life?

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