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Plan for change: What motherhood has taught me about leadership

April 29, 2022

By Lauren Lopez, senior vice president foodservice division, Rich Products

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trial.” While there is no clear path to motherhood, or a career, I have created my own trail to walk on. To help create that trail, I navigated a plan with many twists and turns. In my twenties, I laid out a 40-year-plan that included what I hoped to accomplish in life, both professional and personally. Putting words to paper seemed like a good way to manifest my goals at the time, and every few years I like to do a look-back on that early vision. By and large, it’s stood the test of time, which is of course as much about good luck as willpower.

When I revisit my list, I’m reminded of the many facets of success that are outside our control, and motherhood reminds me of that truth daily. Parenting requires a dedication and flexibility that can be challenging for anyone—even those with the best laid plans! However, I’m taking as many lessons as I can into my work as senior vice president for the foodservice division at Rich’s. Since becoming a mom, here are three I’ve learned (so far):

1.) Taking a pause can lead to progress.

Is the toddler in meltdown mode while the baby is simultaneously screaming? The struggle is real. Take a pause and allow yourself a moment of reset. When you’re feeling more centered, you are better set-up to lead others.

At work and at home, I’ve found pausing can offer clarity in times of stress or conflict. It gives space to be reflective and to look at a situation from different vantage points. My advice: create space for people to talk about their needs and their struggles without repercussions. Using the power of pause to dig into the other person’s experience is a chance to both empathize and be a better problem solver.

There are other types of pauses for leaders to consider and navigate for themselves and their reports, too. Whether it’s setting clear after-hours boundaries, taking the break of a vacation, the pause of parental leave or a longer departure to manage complicated family issues, we need to shift our thinking about caregivers who need time away.

A temporary departure from business, doesn’t have to be a setback. When we can do so—which I appreciate is a complex answer that depends on factors like finances, health, childcare access and more—we should be amenable to breaks that give us the time and space needed to recenter ourselves and retool our game plan. The space in-between can help bring our best work forward and lead to progress and better leadership.

2.) It takes a village.

I’m lucky to parent with a trusted partner. He has my back and when late nights on the job are needed or when plans change, we’re navigating the unexpected together. While we don’t have family nearby that can provide support (leading to the dreaded game of “not it” when a little one is sick and we’re both on deadline), we’re otherwise blessed to have built a community of helpers to support our professional pursuits. Because of that community, we can be better leaders and better parents. Their support allows us to be present in both roles.

In the workplace, leadership benefits from community, too. I’ve had very good mentors who coached, mentored and sponsored me during my time in Rich’s. Different functional leaders have invested in my learning—taking the time to really teach me—and thanks to their dedication and advocacy, my career has advanced. Seek out a workplace that prioritizes training and encourages face time with senior executives. Rich’s understands the value of both.

3.) Needs change. Accept the unknown and be a solution-seeker.

Becoming a parent means there’s a new boss in town— the work phone that once took up valuable nightstand real estate is replaced by a baby monitor. Our attention is divided, and little challenges or transitions can seem momentous, snowballing into a heap of worry about the unknown.

As I returned to my work travel schedule, I questioned how to get back on the road as a breastfeeding mama. The two priorities felt at deep odds. I was ecstatic to discover Rich’s offers associates access to Milk Stork, an overnight milk delivery service.

If you’re connected to a company that anticipates the needs of working parents like Rich’s does, that’s a built-in benefit, but it’s also a solution you can seek out independently. The same trouble-shooting approach we bring to our day jobs can be applied to parenting, and in a full-circle moment, the adaptability parenting requires can improve our work. When we accept that we don’t have all the answers, and we’re empowered to find solutions, our abilities as a leader grow.

More than a few years into that 40-year plan I mapped, life today is exactly as I imagined it, and nothing at all as I imagined it. That’s parenting. I have a career I love at an organization I’m proud to be part of a team I respect, a partner I cherish and a healthy family. What more could I ask for? Well… there are a few things I’d change about today’s supply chain issues, but that’s a post for another day.

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