Spokane Journal of Business

Life’s experiences can shape your leadership

Why employers hold the key to women in leadership and work-life harmony

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It’s said that our own life experiences shape our views, norms and customs. The old Golden Rule—treat  others the way you want to be treated—is something that always comes to mind in leadership decisions, yet too many times we fall back on how we were actually treated or a difficult life or professional experience that shaped us and our way of thinking and acting. 

It’s time that employers, and the collective we, choose to lead with support, empathy and empowerment. 

This is especially the case in the context of getting more women into leadership roles, because empowerment leads to increased harmony and happiness. 

It’s acceptable to draw upon past life experiences, pleasant or unpleasant. What is not acceptable is to perpetuate the cycle of passing down past unpleasant experiences and allowing someone to have to live through that same unpleasant experience. 

We must advocate for and empower one another, even more so when female leaders are shaping other female leaders. We must draw on our own experiences and ensure those that we are shaping receive the most pleasant ones.

I say all this because I want to share a personal experience that has shaped me and will guide how I make leadership decisions when the opportunities arise to “repay” that pleasantness. The pleasantness I was fortunate to receive from two top female executives was forged and passed down to me due to some unpleasantness that each of them experienced in their own lives. They both learned from those experiences and passed down a lesson in leadership that came from a place of support, empathy and empowerment. 

My experience began in October of 2017, when my wife, Vange, and I were out at a community event with my boss and my mentor advocate. These two women are the top executives at Numerica Credit Union. Over dinner, my wife told them that she would be leaving me home alone for the month of January 2018—as she took 20 Whitworth students to study abroad—to care for and raise two very energetic little boys (Noah age 7, and Luca age 5 at that time), as well as a teenage 9th grade goddaughter we were raising at that time due to a hurricane in Puerto Rico that  had left the island in catastrophe. The first response from everyone at the table was sheer laughter and utter enjoyment. That laughter and enjoyment stemmed from the notion that a working father, whose wife was generally the main person for the kids and herself had a demanding career, would now get a chance to see what it’s like to juggle a career and family. 

Without hesitation, those two executive female leaders spoke of their own life experiences. They recalled unpleasant experiences; times when they had work demands and sick children, times when they had no support from family and friends, times when they had no support from their employer, times when they had to magically hold it all together and hide the exhaustion and unbalance, times when they had zero time for their own personal and professional development. They drew upon those experiences to make the decision that as an employer and leader they would now pass down a better way of juggling to me. 

The decision was made that I was to fully concentrate on taking care of the kids and getting them set at school for the day, thus starting my working day at 9 a.m. Then I was to disconnect from work at 3 p.m., to focus my energy and concentration fully on the kids. They empowered me to be able to clearly focus on one thing at a time, rather than juggling work and family. They knew this was the better way of doing things, because they had lived through and learned from their own experiences. The biggest take away for me was that my work still got done in those laser-focused six hours and the additional two to four hours of work after the kids’ needs were met. 

I’m lucky to work for leaders who are supportive and understand work-life harmony. I’m lucky that support, empathy and empowerment were passed down to me. I’m lucky that at some point in my career, I can now draw upon this experience and pass it along to the next leader. At Numerica, it is part of our culture to openly discuss work-life balance, as well as when routines change that require adaptation, both from the employer and the employee side. If we have the goal of developing more female leaders and seeing more women in leadership, then we will need more employers that lead with support, empathy and empowerment. The work will still get done, but even better and more harmonious. Pass on pleasantness from one’s life experiences!

Manuel “Manny” Hochheimer is an assistant vice president of corporate and external relations at Numerica Credit Union.

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