I rolled my eyes the first time I heard my mom say, “One day you’ll understand.” It wasn’t the first time I heard her say those words, nor the only time I rolled my eyes when I heard them.
What did she know. I knew everything, and she knew nothing. Well, as you can imagine, I’ve been eating crow for quite some time. As it turns out, Mom always does know best. I can now admit that some of the best leadership advice I’ve learned came first from my mom.
In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought it would be great to give credit where credit is due and share seven leadership lessons I learned from my momma.
- Dress for Success. Mom always looks like a million bucks and tried to instill the habit of putting our best foot forward by the way we presented ourselves. She was right. As it turns out, first impressions do matter. In fact, our appearance affects our confidence and influences how others respond to our ideas.
- Serve Others. Mom had the unnerving habit of making her children go out of their way to serve others. She had it right and taught us the power of servant leadership before it was popular.
- Take Risks. After Dad passed away, Mom received an invitation from her sister to move, with her three children, from Mexico to Los Angeles. Before I formally learned that strong leaders take risks, she taught by example. Leaving all she knew was a risky choice for which I’ll be forever grateful.
- Be the Bigger Person. Mom isn’t perfect, as is the case for all of us. But one leadership lesson she’s modeled over the years is to be the bigger person. In practical term, it means to let go of grudges first, to say “I’m sorry” quickly, and to make things right often.
- Handwrite Your Notes. Everyone loves to find a handwritten note in the mailbox—because it rarely happens. Mom still sends dozens of handwritten notes out every month. To say thank you. To cheer others on. To say “I’m praying for you.” She does what some leaders are just discovering, that a handwritten note is one of the simplest ways to stand out and build a bridge to someone else’s heart.
- Ask for Help. Mom’s life motto has been, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” Asking for help has not always come easy for her, but she’s discovered that asking for help is truly a leadership strength. She’s taught me that asking for help takes humility, guts, and generosity—because letting others help blesses them.
- Show Gratitude Often. Mom always reminded her children to send a thank you note, to say thank you through actions, or to show gratitude often. Thought leaders are now talking about the power of grateful leadership, a practice that I first learned from watching Mom.
Mom, you were right. I finally do understand!
So on that last note, let me close by heeding Momma’s advice and paying a tribute of gratitude to her beloved sister, my aunt, the unlikely mom who also impacted my leadership and my life.
In Memoriam: A Tribute to the Remarkable Elena Chong
My beloved aunt, Elena Chong, passed away last year. She was neither famous nor accomplished—by the world’s standards. She was impulsive in her boundless generosity, so her entire life’s possessions fit in the trunk of my car. Many would be tempted to think that she died broke, broken, and without a legacy—but they would be wrong.
Single and struggling to make ends meet, she became an instrument of God almost 30 years ago to transform the lives of her newly widowed sister and her three children, Emmanuel, Corina, and me. She offered her small apartment as our home when we arrived from Mexico, not knowing that she’d instantly become the second parent of two teenagers and a four year old.
She loved us. She worried about us. She disciplined us when we were out of line (which happened quite often). And she bore the pain of our rebellious teen-age years. Still, she never ceased to celebrate our accomplishments with contagious exuberance.
And isn’t that a mother’s job description?
We are her legacy. What we have become—and who our children will become—are her crown jewels. I know I speak for my mom and siblings when I say that we’ll never be able to express enough gratitude for the generous love she gave us, love so selfless that opened the doors of opportunity to all we have and get to do today.
The day she passed away I thanked God for graciously taking her physical pain away and for scooping her into His arms, as she slipped away saying, “I’m ready to go home… I’m ready to go live with Jesus, my Savior.”
Today I thank God for her life as I honor her memory on this Mother’s Day.
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