Leadership Lessons from my Mother

Even though Mother’s Day was officially celebrated yesterday, May 13, I feel compelled to share a little about my mom, Helen Stroud Ryan, and how her life experience has helped motivate me through the years.  When I look back at my life while Mom was alive, I reflect on how many obstacles she overcame to be the person she became and I wish she was still with us today.  Let me tell you more.

My mother grew up on a farm in Armington, Illinois.  Her father and her mother both graduated from high school.  My mom had one older brother, Jim, and one younger brother, John (Jack).  Both of her brothers graduated from college and went on to highly successful careers, Jim as a teacher in Aledo, Illinois and Jack as a music teacher (and actor) in Colfax, Illinois.  Amazingly, all three of them are now deceased, but we remain connected to both families, primarily Uncle Jack’s family who relocated to the Nashville area.

My mother had an accident while growing up on the farm.  This accident severed all of the toes on one of her feet.  As a result, she lived her entire life with a prosthectic device in her shoe.  I think about how important toes are to keeping balance and I marvel at how Mom worked so many years on her feet as a surgical nurse, having gotten her RN from Deaconess Hospital in Lincoln, Illinois.

In an era where most women did not work outside the home, my mom worked grueling weeks with three boys to tame when she came home.  As the youngest of the three, I admit I was the baby and probably was spoiled more than the others.  She also dealt with my dad, a high-spirited individual who was a survivor of Iwo Jima in the USMC during World War 2.  I’ll write more about my dad in a future post.

Here are three things I learned from my mom that have helped make me the person I am today, and a better leader as a result of all three:

1.  We all have obstacles to overcome in our lives.  You can spend time complaining about your challenges or you can find ways to overcome them.  My mom got her nursing certificate and also overcame a pretty challenging disability, one that most people never realized she had.  Only immediate family members knew about her foot and she never called attention to this.

2.  It is sometimes better to go about your work rather than being boastful in your accomplishments.  People who knew my mother would say she was pretty reserved on most occasions.  She did have her moments when she might lock horns with Dad, but for the most part she was the silent partner in a long marriage who did whatever it took to keep things moving along.

3.  What we do says more about us than anything we can say.  As I mentioned above, my mom was not overly talkative about her work.  She would engage in conversation with anyone, but she was not an instigator.  On the other hand, she was devoted to her family and did whatever it took to see her boys be successful.

Mom, thanks for all that you have done to make me who I am today.  I regret that I didn’t thank you often enough for all of this while you were here in this life, but I pray that we get a chance to catch up in the next life.

What have you learned from your Mother?  Have you thanked her?