Leadership lessons from mothers

Puneet Pal Singh shares lessons he picked up from his mother and other mothers that have helped him grow as a leader. A fitting Mother's Day tribute!

Puneet Pal Singh with his parents Dr Inderjeet Kaur and Dr Jaspal Singh
By Puneet Pal Singh | OPINION | SINGAPORE |

As we celebrated Mother’s Day over the weekend, I, like everyone else, thanked my mother for all she did to raise us. This year, though, I did something else as well. I thanked her for the role she has played in shaping my professional success.

Her response: “I did nothing. It is all down to your hard work and the almighty’s blessings”.

I usually don’t disagree with her. But on this, I do, specifically on the first part. As I have grown from being an individual contributor, to now leading a team, there are many things which I have picked up from my mother, and from observing other moms, that have helped me grow as a leader.  In no particular order, they are:


The first step to achieving success with anything is having the belief that you can do it. Some people are blessed with high levels of confidence, but most of us need encouragement from time to time to help build that up. This is an incredibly important part of leading a team. It is even more important for leaders to know that encouragement doesn’t stop with one task, challenge, hurdle or failure. You must keep doing it at every major step. However, it is critical that leaders don’t just blindly encourage. They also need to identify areas where a team member needs to improve to achieve their potential and coach them along the way.

Who better to teach this virtue than a mother? From taking the first step, speaking the first word, being on the stage for the first time in school, failing the first exam, to the first day in college and work, one thing has been constant – my mother’s encouragement to believe that I can ‘do it’. She also made sure she pointed out areas that I need to improve in. She does that to this day.


Even with all the encouragement and self-belief there will always be times when we don’t end up on the winning side. Good leaders don’t see every such situation as a ‘failure’. Instead they highlight the importance of taking things into stride, learning lessons from each setback and using those to constantly improve and try again till you succeed.

I participated in almost every single extracurricular and sport activity in school each year. I won NOTHING, except more encouragement from my mother. The result? I found my calling in public speaking, specifically debating, as I started high school. All the years of being on stage, and not winning, took away the fear of failure. I have won every single competition since.


It is important to remember that a job doesn’t define a person. All of us have lives outside of work. What this means is that there are always circumstances, many times not related to our jobs, that affect us and impact about ability to deliver to the best of our potential. This is where empathy plays a key role. Great leaders have ability to understand the feelings of another person and go the extra mile to provide whatever support may be needed at the time. Trust is paramount to this. Team members need to have the belief that they can talk to their leader about such issues, without being judged at the time, or these being held against them at a latter stage.

Mothers across the world are the prime example on how to get this right. They listen to their children openly, without being judgemental. They understand what kids are going through and create a supportive environment around them to help address any issues, challenges or overcome any insecurities.


The most important attribute that leaders can learn from mothers is that of being enablers of success. Nothing gives more joy to a mother, or a father for that matter, than seeing their children doing better than themselves. To me, this is the one attribute that is the hallmark of great leaders. They don’t create followers, but mentor future leaders and rejoice in their success. To do this, leaders need to be self-assured and not insecure that their jobs may one day be under threat from their own team. For that, leaders themselves need to continuously improve and become better with each passing day. That is a win-win for everyone.


Finally, we must learn how to make work more fun. Most jobs in the world involve some form of mundane, non-tactical, admin work that almost everyone dislikes. It is our duty to make sure that we make most part of the job fun for the team, so they look forward to work and even do the mundane aspects with a smile. If not, we run the risk of making work boring and triggering the thoughts of a change in the team and losing the war for talent.

On this front, I am trying to learn from my wife. She has an innate ability to make even the arduous task of math homework fun for our little one. I have not seen any child laugh while doing sheets of math problems. My aim is to see if I can make the process of raising purchase requests as fun as that in the weeks to come.

Singapore-based Puneet Pal Singh, a former BBC reporter and a partner at global public relations and communications agency, is now the Head of Communications, Southeast Asia at Cisco. His mother, Dr Inderjeet Kaur, was a chemistry professor at Himachal Pradesh University while his dad Dr Jaspal Singh was an anaesthetist. They are both retired now.


Puneet made Partner at Bell Pottinger in Singapore (Asia Samachar, 13 March 2016)


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