How motherhood made me a better professional

Payal Koul

How motherhood made me a better professional

Our daughter was born ten years after we got married! Not that we did not think of starting a family before, but life was so full of late-night parties, impromptu vacations, hanging out, and hangovers, it left no space for a little one. With the biological clock ticking away, we finally took the plunge and became parents in 2007.

My life is still very full, late-night movie sessions with popcorn, planned vacations, hanging out, and even some hangovers!

From teaching Neesa how to walk and talk to now teaching myself how to walk and talk with a teenager, the journey has been educational. It has also helped me transition to a wholesome personality with rich professional experiences and even richer relationships.

I firmly believe all relationships in life teach us something and help us grow. Being a parent by far is the best learning that anyone can get in management. Here are the top five learnings as a parent that I extended to my professional life and reaped great rewards.

Manager to Coach

To be effective as a parent, I realized that I need to keep changing my way of communicating with Neesa as she went through various stages of growth. What started more as a directive and a demonstrative style of coaching in her younger days, shifted to a more empowering style of just making some suggestions and letting her come up with the solution. It is satisfying to see her growing up to be independent and confident in picking her own choices. As she learns to take the small decisions (small, as per adult dictionary but of grave importance for a 13-year-old) that confront her today, I feel confident that she will be able to make reasonable decisions as an adult.

The aim is to move from Micromanagement to Macro management. Neesa and I agree to the boundaries, and she chooses how the picture is painted inside and takes responsibility for not adhering to the accepted guidelines (this could definitely do with some improvements!).

Depending on the situation, I do go back to the original, directive style (e.g., when she is learning a new skill or confronted with a unique situation, not dealt with before), but only after agreeing with her that this is need of the hour.

Just as a parent, where my role is to make my daughter independent, as a people manager, I believe in helping my team members be independent thinkers and leaders. Depending on the team member’s maturity in a specific role, I decide the level of intervention required to help him/her succeed in the position and move towards success. This realization has made my leadership style more collaborative and motivational. Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In says,

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”

Command, and Control leadership style is passé. If we want to be leaders in the real sense, then we need to learn how to move from a more controlling leadership style (which may be required only at some points) to a more empowering leadership style.

In his book ‘The Tao of Coaching’, Max Landsberg talks about the ‘Coaching Spectrum’ and says

“coach is a midwife to skill-building and is not typically a highly didactic teacher. The coach’s most important decision is whether to instruct/ suggest, or whether to ask a question — or indeed whether to use a style of interaction somewhere between these two extremes.”


In India, there is an old saying, ‘You need an entire village to bring up a child,’ how true! India traditionally had a joint family system. Growing up with uncles, aunts, and cousins was like going to home school, where kids learned real-life lessons from all their varied interactions. As kids grow up, their success is defined, not just by their grades in school but also on how they mingle and become part of their various communities and society at large.It was also more manageable for the mothers to pursue other interests, including work, since there would always be others in the family to take care of children.

Being the independent woman of today, asking for help was not easy for me. At the same time, if I wanted to continue staying independent, it was impossible to bring up Neesa entirely on my own. My full-time job, including extensive travel, was not possible without an ecosystem of support. I thank God for giving me the wisdom to lean in and ask for support from my family. I see Neesa growing up to be a well-rounded child who values all relationships and has learned immensely from all the people in her life. Besides, my husband and I, her grandparents, cousins, and our family friends have contributed immensely to her learning.

Leaning in at home, also made me ease up at work. I realized that I don’t have to do it all. I can ask for help. I learned the art of delegation and not being a control freak. In retrospect, this helped me grow faster in my professional life. Motherhood has been an endowing stage in life. I realized that I do not have to give up my profession or my aspirations to bring up my child. It is an unnecessary sacrifice. It is a wonderful experience to grow up together. I just Lean’ed-in, partnered with my spouse and, invested in growing a strong network of people that I could depend on. There is no need to do it all, I’d rather prioritize my time for what absolutely needs my attention and delegate the rest.

You can’t be perfect at everything, so just be perfect at things that add value in your life. Sheryl Sandberg said,

“every job will demand some sacrifice. The key is to avoid unnecessary sacrifice.”

Please note, I have written this, keeping in mind that it is generally women who take the lion’s share of responsibility in child-care. This, however, holds equally true for men who are taking the dominant role instead.

Discipline and Time management

As I taught my little one to sleep on time and wake up on time, my life, too, started following a regime and became more disciplined. I would no longer waste time gossiping in the office or surfing through channels at home. Not because I was compelled, but because I wanted to prioritize my time for what adds maximum value in my life.

No skill in life can be learned without discipline. Neesa got into her school swimming team at the age of 8. It was so inspirational to see my little one waking up every morning at 5, raring to go for her swimming practice. It motivated me to be my best at home and work.

Managing both sides honed my skills at time management. I became stronger in planning and executing as per plan. Mothers, I think, make the best project managers!!!

In all this, I never stopped having fun. Discipline is not about being a hard-nosed, obsessive personality but more about building positive habits in life, which you may push yourself to do initially, but soon start enjoying. Be it waking up at 5 am, sleeping on time, or exercising every day, over some time, these habits have become so ingrained in my lifestyle that it is difficult to imagine what life was before this! I echo completely with this anonymous quote I read somewhere,

“the more disciplined you become, the easier life gets.”

As a leader, you have to walk the talk.

Assuming that my team will do as I say is foolhardy. My style is more to roll up the sleeves and inspire by what I am doing rather than what I am instructing.


Seeing your child grow up is like going through your childhood all over again. The struggles, the pain, the excitement, which was a part of my history, came all back as I saw Neesa going through the same.

I could feel her pain as she struggled with a few things, and I could sense her excitement as she learned new things and succeeded in them.

This experience has made me more empathetic, not just towards my child but towards my colleagues, my family, my friends, and the world at large. I have become much closer to my extended family. I value and guard my close relationships vigorously. Life now is not just about me but about us. As a professional, this has helped me earn more friends, connect much better to my colleagues, and develop a more collaborative style of leadership.

Empathy is a critical requisite for a leader. Managers who show more empathy have more productive teams and better results. Sellers who show more empathy connect better with their clients. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said during an interview with CBS Good Morning,

“empathy is everything, even in a business context… there was no way we could innovate without having a deeper sense of empathy.”

Living in the present

There is no greater teacher than a child to show you what it means to live in the present. Watching Neesa at play or while doing anything she is passionate about, I could sense her complete dedication to the job at task. Being with her was and still is utterly therapeutic for me. I remember coming back from office one particular day, when Neesa was maybe three years old, with a bad migraine. I spent 30 minutes with her playing and talking (without looking into my phone!), to suddenly realize that my migraine was gone!

Headaches, body aches, and so many other health conditions are just a build-up of stress because of constant worrying and thinking that we, adults indulge in.

Critical learning for me has been to focus on the task at hand without thinking about the outcome. This has been a significant advantage in my work life because it sets me free from anxiety and constant worry. I believe in doing the job to the best of my abilities; with full passion and involvement, the outcome is not in my control. I have always experienced great results because of this mindset.

Wayne Walter Dyer, author and a motivational speaker said,

“the more I give myself permission to live in the moment and enjoy it without feeling guilty or judgmental about any other time, the better I feel about the quality of my work.”

Finally, motherhood, for me, far from being a limiting factor in my professional life, has enriched me with a lot more wisdom to handle my work efficiently. It inspires me every day to connect better with my colleagues and create an environment that fosters learning and progress for all.