What Pregnancy Is Teaching Me About Leadership

Hayley Panagakis

07 September 2018

Ah, pregnancy. It’s a time in a woman’s life when hormones reign supreme, food cravings inspire creative recipes that probably shouldn’t exist (pickles and ice cream, anyone?) and physique changes so much you often feel like a foreigner in your own body, never knowing what it’ll do next.

Add me to the list of millions of women currently experiencing the exciting, albeit nerve-racking, adventure of bringing a child into the world. My husband and I are expecting our son in two short months and are thrilled, to say the least; yesterday, I came home to find my husband had taken the baby shoes we received at our shower out of our son’s nursery and put them on his desk to stare at while he worked. Adorable.

As a first-time mom, the past seven months have been a learning experience. I’ve gained a lot of information about what to expect in my pregnancy, what labor and delivery will be like, and how to care for a newborn. I’ve navigated the more tedious parts of pregnancy such as dealing with insurance, creating wills, touring daycare after daycare to ensure we find the best one for our son, etc.

These are the lessons we expected to learn as we enter parenthood, but less expected was what I’d learn about myself and my leadership as I prepare for what I imagine will be the greatest leadership role I’ll encounter in my life: being a mother. Here are the leadership lessons I’ve learned thus far in my short time as a soon-to-be parent.

Self-awareness is everything.

We hear about self-awareness as an important leadership trait, but how important is it? How much time and effort should we devote to reflecting on ourselves and the traits in which we should grow? At Leadercast Live 2018, Ian Cron, Enneagram teacher and co-author of The Road Back to You, explained that being self-aware is essential to our success as leaders.

“Self-awareness is the single most important determinant of success or failure in life,” he said. “Self-awareness will make you lead yourself better so you can lead others like you never have before.” TWEET

As I prepare for parenthood, I can’t help but reflect on who I am as a person. I think about the strong, positive qualities about myself and my husband that I hope our child will gain—for example, wisdom and patience from his father, and from me, my optimism and ability to fight for what I believe in. I also think about the negative traits I hope he doesn’t get—those qualities I’m constantly working to improve within myself (impatience tops the list, so thank goodness for my husband).  

Being self-aware enables us to push forward to be the best version of ourselves. Reflecting on the traits we would or wouldn’t want to see in others shouldn’t be reserved for just our children; we should do it daily in our leadership at work, in our communities and with anyone in our sphere of influence, and think about how these traits will have an impact on them.

Servant leadership shines through when leading by example.

Parenthood not only makes you stop to think about yourself, but also your parents. In pregnancy, I’ve thought a lot about the sacrifices my parents made growing up and how they led by example.

Mother’s Day came early on in my pregnancy when I had the least amount of control over my emotions. The Friday before, I got really reflective about my mom and spent my lunch break trying to keep a handle on my tears as I thought about how much she and my father sacrificed to give my siblings and me the best possible lives.

My parents had five children (I’m No. 4 in the lineup). When the Great Recession came in 2008, my parents took a hit like a lot of families. My mom was the primary breadwinner during that time. She worked long days with a three-hour commute, yet still found time to make a homemade meal for us every night—never complaining and always with a smile on her face. She graciously devoted all of her time to her family, rarely taking a moment for herself. My mom is a servant leader in every sense of the word.

Dr. Jim Loehr, co-founder of the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, said at Leadercast Live, “The most important thing you can do with your life is to give it away to others.” TWEET

As leaders and as parents, it’s important to consider the example we’re setting for others. Are we encouraging servant leadership in our children, co-workers, family and friends by graciously offering up our own time, resources and skills? My mom set the example for me, now it’s my turn to pay it forward to my son.

Vulnerability is a strength.

Working at Leadercast, I’ve learned how critical it is for leaders to show their vulnerabilities. Patrick Lencioni, founder of The Table Group and upcoming Leadercast Live 2019 speaker, says, “When people can be emotionally buck naked and be completely honest about who they are as a person (warts and all), it creates a dynamic on your team like nothing else. People will walk through walls of fire for a leader who’s true and human. They want to know that we know our humanity.” TWEET

The leaders I respect most in life are also the ones who aren’t afraid to be transparent in their pitfalls and show their true emotions and selves to their teams. But knowing the importance of vulnerability isn’t the same as putting it into practice. Leaders want to be vulnerable, but what if opening up leads to showing too much emotion in front of your team? Most of us don’t want to risk that happening, so we avoid it entirely, closing the door to an opportunity to be vulnerable.

Pregnancy has forced me to express my vulnerabilities, largely because I don’t have full control over my emotions. In times when a not-pregnant me would have suppressed feelings or avoided vulnerability, pregnancy took the reins. I’ve never cried in public before, but bawled in the middle of a restaurant after a stressful day. I also cried in front of my boss for the first time the day after I found out my brother was being deployed.

While I’m thankful pregnancy gave me the push toward vulnerability I needed, I’m a little bummed I waited so long to do it. Leaders can’t rely on something like hormones or pregnancy to force them into having moments of weakness with their teams. Don’t avoid your emotions; show your humanity to those you lead.

Fear is something to work through, not something that should rule you.

I’m an analytical person, which means I “what if” everything. It can be fun when it’s in the context of questions like, “What if I won a million dollars?” but not so much when it’s a thought stemmed from a true fear: ”What if I lost my husband?” What if, what if, what if?

In pregnancy, especially with the first, moms worry about everything. Accidentally ate something that’s a pregnancy no-no? Hello, insomnia. You felt a minor cramp and are worried it could be something bad you read on Google? Hello, unnecessary trip to the hospital.

All moms deal with anxieties and fears, as do all leaders, but it’s important to work through it rather than let it rule you. In a recent episode of The Leadercast Podcast, retired fighter pilot for the U.S. Navy Carey Lohrenz said, “No matter your situation, the No. 1 way to ensure you're the best leader you can be is to build your ability to work through fear—and then do what needs to be done in spite of that fear.” TWEET

No matter the fears you have as a parent, spouse, co-worker, friend or any other leadership role you hold, you have to acknowledge and work through them in order to be successful for yourself and your followers.

Just like parenthood, leadership is a lifelong journey. I’ve hardly scratched the surface of what parenthood will teach me about myself and my leadership for the years to come, but I look forward to what the journey has in store for me.


Hayley Panagakis

This blog was written by Hayley Panagakis, a freelance writer, editor and content creator. Connect with her on LinkedIn and visit her website to learn more about her services.

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