5 Leadership Lessons from My Mum

Jan 17, 2024 5 Min Read
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Leadership Gems from a Mum


As some of my network here knew her, my dear mother passed away in the final hour of 2023, following a terminal stage of illness. She went out with a bang of the new year's eve fireworks, as is her style and sense of humour. All three of her sons, as well as her beloved grandchildren, were close to her on her last day.

While I have no words to describe how much she will be missed, as a tribute, I wish to honour her life by sharing precious lessons that she taught me through informal tutelage and observation in my half century of growth to shape me into the human being and leader I am today. I hope her wisdom can be of use to you as I return to my mission of developing great leaders in 2024.

1. Learn to communicate indiscriminately with everyone

My mother could speak engagingly with anyone. Whether it was the security guard at the grocery store, the vendors in the market stalls, the tailor, her grandchildren, or VIPs at a global medical conference, she could engage with them all with equal importance and without discriminating against their status in society.

Amma would make the time to value and acknowledge people, relating to and connecting to them in an easy and authentic manner, often jokingly. Sometimes it was just a word, a nod, or a look, but everyone felt they were seen by an important person, even if she was dressed in her shabbiest clothes for the morning market. The most inspiring leaders seem to have this ability to connect with and touch others, even with the smallest of gestures.

2. Live your priorities right and commit to them long-term

My mother was clear on her priorities and focused her time around them unashamedly. She made a brave move and took early retirement to focus on supporting her three sons and grandchildren as best as she could, mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. For the last thirty years of her life, this was her complete focus; my brothers and I would agree that she did an extremely good job of raising us all.

Very few people dedicate themselves to one primary goal these days. We are so easily distracted by the less important, that is newsfeeds, app notifications, social media, gossip, and more. Yet even the biggest corporate leaders, like Bill Gates & Warren Buffet, swear by that fact and claim that their greatest successes came as a result of their incredible ability to focus on one thing and do it well.

3. Smile more at strangers, even when you don’t feel like it

On many of my evening routines, I would go for long walks to process the day that had just passed. I would muster over the problems at work and mull over ideas on how to solve them while processing my own emotions. I walk seriously and purposefully for miles, until one day my mother said I looked too serious and that people in my local area (both in Sydney and Kuala Lumpur) would likely feel intimidated by the speed and determination of my pace.

She suggested I smile more, even at random people, everywhere.

I soon did, with practice, despite having my most troubling days toward the end of her life. Some people smiled back. When they did, I felt part of a bigger community, which, in some ways, minimised the scale of my daily problems. I soon became more connected to my local community as people smiled back regularly, which brought a different perspective and clarity to what’s really important. You realise that the world strangely goes on with you, which in turn made my work life more at ease.

4. Deep Compassion sometimes requires Fierce Protection

My mum was a very kind, caring, and compassionate person who would go to great lengths to ensure we had everything we needed. Every meal at home was nourishing and to our preference, but she also nourished our souls by reminding us to sleep and rest often and that we had joy in our lives. With my intense work schedule and goals, she was often the backbone of my efficiency, delegating many daily life matters to her skillful diligence.

She planned for fun; she ensured her grandchildren had many games, entertainment, and activities that would fill them with joy. This went on consistently on weekends for years and was her purpose.

But my mother was also fiercely protective of her time with the people under her care, to a great degree. Much like a lioness protecting her cubs, my mother’s leadership also involved taking on a fight if she felt it was the right thing to do and making no apologies about it.

I learned that in order to lead & seek fairness, sometimes you need to stand up for what you believe is the right thing and have some ferocity about it. Over the years, I’ve learned to do fierce passion without anger as much as possible; this one is a work in progress ;-)

You may like these:

 The Biggest Leadership Lesson Learnt From My Father

A Father's Letter To His 3 Children

5. Leading with Love is leading for life (and work)

My mother was the most loved person I have known on the planet.

She was everyone’s favourite mother, sister, aunt, friend, and so much more. Hundreds of people came to her funeral, even though she held no formal title or authority for three decades. They cared about her because she cared for them and showed love in its many forms.

Several of her work colleagues from thirty to fourty years prior, in her career as a dentist, came to her funeral. I can’t imagine a colleague from that far back ever remembering me or even coming to mine. They still remember how much joy she brought to them at work, in the dental clinic, or teaching dental hygiene in schools or rural areas. She was just such a joy to be around. How great to have colleagues like that, to keep you engaged at work!

Love was the core value in which she touched so many lives so deeply in her 76 years on this earth. I wonder how many corporate leaders would benefit from leading with such an attitude.

Heaven has welcomed a new angel; may you have received a lesson or two from her grace.

What lesson in leadership did you learn from your parents?

This was first published on Dr. Avnesh Ratnanesan's LinkedIn.

Edited by: Kiran Tuljaram

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Dr. Avi Ratnanesan is a leadership coach, speaker, and trainer to CEOs, entrepreneurs, leaders and managers, elevating leadership skills, business growth, and personal performance for breakthrough success. He also helps leadership teams execute strategy plans, tech roadmaps and motivates teams for higher engagement. Specialist areas include Leadership Development, Customer & Patient Experience Management and Resilience. Dr Avi is the Founder and CEO of Energesse, and author of "PEOPLE STRATEGY & WORKFORCE OPTIMIZATION" endorsed by thought leaders like Deepak Chopra 'TIME magazine Top 100 icon' and Dave Ulrich 'Father of Modern HR'.


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