Learning to lead like a mother

When the reality of pregnancy hit me, the anxiety rose to unprecedented levels and the confidence I had built over the years as a leader crumbled. Unlike any job, I didn’t know what I was signing up for, or if I had the right skills for it.

I started researching; talking to as many parents as I could find and looked for evidence-based approaches that could provide some guidance and comfort as I embarked on the most exciting and terrifying journey of my life.

It wasn’t until I read about Janet Lansbury, an early childhood professional who advocates for a coach-like approach to parenting, that I felt like I found a parenting style resonated. Miss Lansbury and her mentor, Magda Gerber, urge parents to be a “stable base” that children leave and return to—an idea that many modern parents find intensely difficult to apply.

Professing a new way to support a child’s development, their approach is one that gives children credit for their ability to communicate, learn and develop in their own time. Gerber and Lansbury started a movement known as “respectful parenting” which involves observing and listening rather than intervening and solving all our children’s problems.

Empathy plays a key role in this approach. In its true expression, it’s not saying “I know how you feel and can understand you” but rather “I don’t know how you feel but I am here for you anyway”. When my daughter gets frustrated, I tell her that I see her frustration, that I’m sorry sometimes things don’t go the way we want; I want her feelings to be recognised, not dismissed or fixed. 

Like every parent, I want the best for my child. I want her to be confident whilst feeling supported, loved and self-sufficient. I couldn’t help but see the connection with my team and the kind of leader I aspire to be.   

Since becoming director of Converge in 2018, I have worked hard to build a team that is genuinely the best group of people I have ever worked with. I have cared and supported each and every one of them, spending time getting to know and discovering their ambitions and passions. I once assumed they always needed my help, that they needed me to make decisions. But that all changed when I took time off on shared parental leave.  It was then that I could really see them, pulling together, running the show, making difficult decisions. They over-performed and allowed me to take a welcome break from work, to enjoy my baby’s precious first months of life. 

When I returned, I realised I have the privilege of leading an incredibly capable, driven and passionate team; full of self-starters and creative individuals who need my support, not my intervention. 

It is my promise to them to be that stable base that they can all leave and return to, whenever they need. Just like with my daughter, I won’t be able to prevent failure, falls, frustrations but I will do my best to provide them with the support and encouragement they need to get up again and give it another try. 

Claudia Cavalluzzo, Executive Director, Converge

This article first appeared in The Herald on Monday 25 April 2022.