I recently received a call from an ex-colleague, whom with I hadn’t spoken with in almost a year. She wanted to talk about an open position on my team, which surprised me because she did not have the skills that we were looking for. However, she wanted to talk about someone else who she knew had applied for the position and was hoping to get an offer, let’s call him Joe. I was floored when she then started to tell me that Joe was part of her brood and she just wanted to make sure that this was the right thing for him. This went on for quite a while with me scheming about I could get off the call ASAP. Then she started to tell me that I needed to treat him right or the Mama Bear in her would come out. Wow! At first, I was ready to hangup but then I realized that she did not mean this as threat and it was just her expressing her concern. Nice but…………..
This made me think back about a similar situation a couple of years back where a where Jane, was irritating her workmates. They felt that she was constantly trying to tell them what to do. In their opinion, it was always about what she wanted to do and she would not respect their opinions. Jane was not happy either and spoke to me about it. Here is where we landed. She was a single mother of three and therefore at home she had to be “the strong one”. This meant that she was so used to issuing instructions to her kids and not listening their responses. It was the only way that she was able to keep control of them. When questioned by the kids, her response was: “because I say so”. In the work environment, she often saw questions from her colleagues as personal attacks and that they did not listen to her. During our discussions, she realized that listening was very different from them doing what she said. She also realized that she just wanted to be heard but her home role had skewed what she wanted and she was expecting her colleagues to do what she said. She changed her expectations and things flourished from then on.
So, based on these two situations, I might be coming across as anti-Mother Hen. This is not true, all I ask is that the Mother Hen identify first whether the person/people that they are communicating with recognize them in the role of Mother Hen.
Let’s contrast these two environments
- It is the parent that generally provides the leadership and guidance.
- The parent role equals total authority and the de facto leader so it acceptable to make unilateral decisions that affect them.
- Because I say so, can be an age appropriate response, especially in a crisis or where confusion prevails.
- We are parents by birth.
- Parents define the acceptable behavior boundaries in the home.
- The leadership and guidance could be anyone, peer, manager….
- Our colleagues choose to follow our leadership or not. It is their choice not ours.
- We are appointed to our roles, either because that is our role or because someone else says that we have the qualifications. Generally the role is formal. i.e. engineer, nurse, manager? I don’t think the mother hen role exists.
- A formal span of control exists. Do you have the authority to make decisions on their behalf?
- Laws, corporates guidance, people’s culture and their expectations of us define the acceptable behavior boundaries in the office.
So before you assume the Mother Hen role outside the home, please think of the following:
- That person that you mothering / herding, did they ask you to mother or herd them?
- The person that you are interacting with, do they recognize the Mother Hen role in the office? Do they see you as the Mother Hen? And more importantly, how do they judge you as the Mother Hen?
- Is it appropriate for you to play this role now with me?
- Know your limits and the person’s boundaries and do not overstep them and just to make sure, ask.