What My Mother’s Long Life Teaches about Leadership

by | Sep 18, 2018 | Blog, Leadership

Quality leadership is a long-term game. The influencer who thrives has traits that enables them to last and be less reluctant.

A few day ago, I attended my mother’s 90th Birthday party. It is a privilege to reach your 90th decade. Only 3 out of 10 people born today are expected to live that long.

So, it was a joy for all family members to celebrate her special day together. She has 5 children, 5 grandchildren, and 5 great grandchildren. All of them were there!

Because of what I do for a living, my siblings and other family members asked me to give a short presentation at the festivities. My preparation included thinking about her past, why she is a special person, and those qualities that lead to her longevity.

Allow me to bestow praise on her, so that I can then go into the comparison on leadership.

Keys to Living a Long Life

I believe that my mom has lived a long and exciting life because she has:


Flexibility & Adaptability,



A need to connect,

A desire to help others,

Creativity, and

A sense of humor.



My mom has shown me her courage in her life. Raising 5 rambunctious children and taking care of her growing family when her husband, my dad, was fighting in Germany and Korea. At the age of 40, she attended college for the first time and earned her bachelor’s degree to become a teacher. Later, she returned to earn her masters while running a household and taking care of us.

Her most brave act was to face life alone after my father died. She has thrived for 8 years on her own.

Leading requires tremendous courage because the buck stops with you. You will often feel isolated and alone as you herd cats, who often don’t appreciate the sacrifice it takes to lead.


Flexibility & Adaptability

My mom has demonstrated reliance throughout her life, even those years before I was born. Her greatest need for these traits has been over the last few years as her body has made her less mobile and not able to do the things she loves.

A leader must be flexible and adapt easily to change. Leading is an art which means there is no roadmap or playbook. You will always need to rise to the occasion, no matter what happens.



Even though as a leader you need to adapt to changing conditions, you also need tenacity to carry you through. In times of turmoil, people look to you to set direction and start or maintain momentum.

I adore my mother’s tenacity. In the last decade, she has experienced at least five of life’s great challenges that cause the most stress. The type of stress that is extremely harmful to one’s health. This trait was needed as she nursed my dad through the turmoil at end of his life. I know it was tough and she survived it with nobility.



Watching my mother, I noticed how much she cared about other’s welfare and needs. This extended beyond my immediate family. My parents always gave their time and money to help others. They both served leadership in groups that helped and supported teachers. They were in service to their church and communities, to strangers and friends.

One trait that will enable you as a leader to accomplish your goals with ease is compassion. Serving as an elder is at times difficult, but you don’t need it to be. The more compassion you show, the more people will help and support you.


A Need to Connect and a Desire to Help Others

When it became evident that my mother could no longer live by herself, my siblings knew it was time for her to live in a senior community. But we didn’t do it for the care they could provide. We knew that my mom thrived in a place where others needed her, and she could be herself- a social butterfly. In a short time in her new ‘home,’ every resident now knows who she is and has benefited from her concern, talents, and compassion. When I visit, I frequently hear comments like, “Your mother is so wonderful. She helped me with…”

I know that you have a desire to help others. But as a leader, you cannot be a lone wolf or you will fail.

The relationships you establish are crucial to your success. Leading is like riding in the carpool lane. You cannot get anywhere without taking people with you.



Mom is an artist at heart. She has engaged in many creative pursuits such as sewing and crochet, drawing and designing, and singing and acting. Her small apartment is filled with items where she can be creative. Even those time where she needs to rest from her aches and pains, she finds ways to be creative.

A good leader needs to be open to possibilities and then use their creativity to turn ideas into reality. Even if you tell me, “I’m not creative,” you have been at times in your life. Reflect on these and notice those activities where you tapped your creative juices. Use the mindset of that time to remind yourself to be more creative now.


A Sense of Humor

We – her family – are very concerned about her falling. At her age, stability is not her friend and lately, the frequency of her falls has increased. However, when she was describing her falls to us she described them and then laughed at herself. My mom has always had a good sense of humor and the object of her humor is often her. She has a healthy ego but does not show it.

As I was writing about her, this idea struck me. The one trait which serves as the glue to hold all her other traits in place is her sense of humor. Maybe because she has always made me laugh, I honed my humor quotient to make her laugh? Hmm…

Leading is hard and you need a sense of humor to help you carry the burden of being the influencer. If you cannot laugh at yourself, then you are taking yourself or your role too seriously. Lighten up. People want to work for someone who is light-hearted and fun to be with.


Mom is a Typical Reluctant Leader™

Thank you for letting me brag about my amazing mother. She is a Reluctant Leader.  She has never described herself as a leader, yet she has always had a positive impact and been a beneficial influence. This makes her a leader.


Maybe I became a leader to make her smile? Hmmm…

Ron Rael Leadership Provocateur, is a keynote speaker, consultant, and author.

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