Beware The “Mommy Manager” Syndrome

Whether this applies to you—or to female (and even male) managers on your team or in your company—beware the “Mommy Manager Syndrome” because it seriously undermines the potential leadership strength and strategic vision of otherwise intelligent and competent leader-managers. (I will refer to Mommy Managers as female, as that is most prominently the case, but please be aware that everything below applies to males who over-parent as well.)

What To Watch For:

1- Overly Protective Loyalty To Team
When executives see the need to reorganize a division or the entire company such that it will disrupt, divide, or even dissolve elements of a team’s current functioning, the Mommy Manager’s first impulse is to jump to the defense of their team, perhaps even sacrificing their own leadership position in the company in order to put their team’s welfare at the forefront.

Rational progressive understanding of what is desired from the re-org is sacrificed to deeply intense emotional loyalty to the Mommy Manager’s team. At the extreme this can lead to resignation from the company, and at minimum to a level of heartbreak that renders the Mommy Manager incapable of leading with clarity and authority thereafter.

2- Defensive Attitude When Team Members Receive Criticism
When a team has cross-functional integration with other teams there is bound to be appropriate (and not-so-appropriate) critical feedback across the teams. When you see a manager routinely and even fiercely come to the defense of their team members you know that there is Mommy Management attachment going on.

If that were not the case, the manager would take in the criticism as important information to be considered, assessed, and passed along constructively when it would help a team member become better at collaborative tactical and strategic thinking, functional interfacing, and ultimately sharing in the positive outcome of teamwork.

3- Insistence On Team Collaboration At The Expense Of Personal Leadership
Far too often Mommy Managers believe they should use their position to draw out from their team members the ultimate planning and direction for even major projects. They want to make everyone happy. They want to make everyone believe that they are major contributors. And they rob their team of the actual leadership of their own wiser, more experienced seniority.

When Mommy Managers function this way, they not only use unnecessary time in the decision making process as they nudge their team members to collaborate, they also depreciate their own expertise. 

4- At The Ready To Take Up The Slack Rather Than Call Out Poor Performances
The Mommy Manager indulges the impulse to jump in and do the work that properly belongs to people on her team. Rather than step up to the more leaderly responsibility of providing critical feedback, potentially painful coaching, or even appropriate lines in the sand re: potential termination or at minimum a PIP (performance improvement program) the Mommy Manager rolls up her sleeves and works alongside her team members rather than insisting on specific criteria for acceptable performance from her team members.

Always concerned about “hurting someone’s feelings” or “being seen as bossy” the Mommy Manager devalues her own leadership by routinely behaving in ways that are overly “nice” and “extra helpful.”

5- Difficulty Taking Command And Standing Out As A Separate And Strong Leader
Because Mommy Managers are so overly-concerned about the well-being of others, especially members of her team, she has a difficult challenge with asserting herself in meetings, garnering publicity for the good work she and her team provide, and in any other way putting herself forward as an authority and leader.

All too often Mommy Managers will say something like, “It’s not my work that needs acclaim, it’s the great work of my team members. I’ll get my promotion when people notice the great work my people produce.” They typically abhor managing up, ie making sure those above them are aware of the outstanding excellence she and her team are bringing to the company. To the Mommy Manager that seems like “playing politics” rather than responsibly educating others about the benefits of her expertise.

So, What To Do...

First - clearly define for yourself and/or people who fit this description who work for you the differences between parenting and managing.

Second - review these distinctions in a private 1on 1, making it clear you expect your manager to forego parenting in favor of growing the excellence and leadership of her team members.

Third - provide oversight and input (if this pertains to you, ask for this from your colleagues and/or manager) to help support, value, and steer the new course of correction. Praise and recognition for good managing is important in the weaning process!

Now, what other behaviors have you noticed in the way of overly parental management styles?


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