Lessons from Mom

As we approach Mother’s Day, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate all things mom. Specifically, how a mother’s influence shapes your character in the workplace. Below are two unique perspectives on how both being a mom, and guidance she provides, can have a profound impact on the decision making process throughout your career. Cheryll Forsatz, SVP, External Communications, and Mike Doyle, Regional President, share their distinct points of view on “lessons from mom” that are just as valuable in the boardroom as they are on the playground.


Maybe My Mom Should Be in PR?
By Mike Doyle

My mother is 4’10 but commands a room like a giant.  She has one of those laughs that makes your day better.  She also makes a killer pound cake. We recently spent a quiet weekend together and as we caught up on the news in our lives, recent world events provided a colorful and complex backdrop…  the violent ejection of a doctor from a plane that created more than just turbulence for a brand and its leaders…  angry voices raised around the world, from nuclear arms in Korea to nuclear battles about healthcare on K Street. We talked about all of it, and I loved hearing her points of view, seasoned with the wisdom of a life well-lived and still in progress.

It got me thinking. What if we introduced my mom’s brand of reputation management on a few C-suites and world leaders?  Maybe beneath the quilted vest facade of this wee Irish nana lies the soul of a real PR pro?  To wit, I offer a few of her more quotable gems – as life advice and surprisingly timely communications counsel:

Don’t be so shooshly.
I’m pretty sure she made up this word, but loosely translated, it means “impatience that leads to stupid decisions.”  I get this one a lot from her, but it’s also wise advice for those of us in communications and those we seek to counsel. Our nearly instantaneous access to data and content powers our ability to derive deeper insights that fuel creative thinking and more thoughtful work. But we also have to remember to take a beat or a breath and actually comprehend information before acting on it, lest we prioritize speed over smarts.

Stand up straight.
She offers this one without discretion or permission – from the teenager who bags her groceries to a policeman who pulled her over for speeding.  She is a relentless advocate for posture. In the case of communications, the figurative “shoulders back” reminds us that it’s never been more important to speak up for those who can’t or whose voices less-often heard; to find purpose in our work; and to do (not just say) the right thing. Because even though finding the right words or images to tell a story has always been our strength, we have to create content and use language that inspires action or it’s worthless.

You can’t get to the big office without learning on the front lines.
My mom’s been a receptionist at the same company for twenty years. This one is a big deal for her, and for me. Truth is, “the big office” is rapidly (and appropriately) becoming a thing of the past, as any open floor plan will tell you. But truth is also that no executive’s day should be spent behind a closed door or in endless meetings. The action, the learning and the most important work happens by being on the front lines – spending quiet time with your greatest talent, working through a challenge with a client, or sitting in the center of that open floor plan firing it up and feeding its energy.

Be kind.
She doesn’t hold the copyrights on this one, but she certainly lives by it.  Pretty timely for us, too.

I could go on, but I’ll follow another one of her edicts – “For once, let someone else talk.”  I’m off to check the names of our 2017 Summer Fellows, because if my hypothesis is right, we might need to make another spot for Kathy Doyle.


A Mom’s Lessons from Two Different Desks
by Cheryll Forsatz

It’s no secret that your work experience, life experience, culture, and upbringing all have a profound impact on your work. As Mother’s Day approaches, it made me start thinking about how being a mom inspires my work, and how my career in public relations influences the lessons I teach my kids. Here are three lessons that I believe are just as valuable in the boardroom as they are on the playground.

Raising a Happy and Successful Brand:
My goal as a parent is making sure my children grow up to be thoughtful, successful and happy adults. For me, part of that is helping them set the stage to get into college. As my kids get older, I focus more on how their school and after school activities help shape who they are. Sports are for fun and exercise, and as a parent, you can’t help but think about the benefits of being a strong student athlete (i.e., team environment, stand out to college admissions, scholarships, etc.)

When my son John Jr. was little, we made sure he played a variety of sports. By fourth grade, John zeroed in on his two favorites: wrestling and lacrosse. This made me happy because he had a winter and spring sport. Both have strong programs at the high school level and coaches tout the benefits of playing multiple sports. I especially liked wrestling for the life lessons that came with it. But, as John approached eighth grade, he informed us he didn’t want to wrestle anymore, and instead wanted to play lacrosse all year long.

What about all that time he had invested developing as a wrester? I thought. What about the great wrestling program he had been a part of for four years? What programs were available (and what was the cost) to play lacrosse all year long? How would this help him grow as a student athlete?

As a PR professional, I have gone through similar questions with clients. The hardest and most rewarding discussions take place when a client wants to capitalize on a trend or change direction and we have to re-evaluate their remit for the year. “Is this new idea on-brand?” “What about the investment we have made in current programs?” “Do we incorporate this thinking into our current plan or does this new idea have stronger ROI?” “How will this new idea drive the bottom-line?”

In essence, we ask ourselves, and our clients, how will this new thinking affect our business results and brand reputation in the long-run? And through tough and honest conversations, weighing the potential risks and benefits, all on the foundation of a strong partnership, the best outcome always breaks through. (And, yes, my son is playing lacrosse all year and is the happiest ever.)

Diversity & Inclusion Starts at Home:
My mom was babysitting and wanted to teach my kids how to sew. My daughter Elizabeth was very eager but John Jr., not so much, saying, “I’m a boy. Why do I need to learn how to sew?” His sister replied, “You should learn. What will you do when you need to sew something and no one is around?”

While I was both proud and, albeit, amazed that my then five-year-old daughter saw beyond gender roles, I was equally concerned that my then eight-year-old son had some work to do. It was a kick-in-the-pants reminder that my children’s environment, what they observed and what they were exposed to, shaped their perspective. I wanted that perspective to be as diverse as possible. Since then, I have borrowed from my work environment to guide me.

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to work with organizations that embrace the impact that diversity and inclusion has to a company’s culture and bottom-line. I take what I learn at work – facts about different cultures, the importance of being open to different thinking, societal conflicts, gender inequities – and they become “Guess what I learned at work…” topics for my kids at home.

Recently, Ketchum launched a program focused on mitigating unconscious bias to help us embrace diversity of thought and make more inclusive decisions. You can imagine the conversation at the Forsatz dinner table that evening.

Raising Leaders:
I became a manager very early in my career and, while I can honestly say that I led teams to produce great work, I had a lot of work to do when it came to managing people (I have the performance reviews to prove it).

If I could write to my former self, I would say: “Dear Twenty-Something Me, Be patient. Be collaborative. There’s a difference between leading a project and leading a team. You’re responsible for growing someone’s career.”

I didn’t grasp that last part until I became a mother. To the moms reading this, who remembers the holy you-know-what-moment when you first got home, looked at your brand new baby and it hit you, “Whoa, I’m responsible for making sure this baby grows up to be a great adult?”

When Elizabeth got engrossed in the DIY slime trend, there was some “playground politics.” After hearing “she said this” and “then this happened,” I could have told Elizabeth exactly how to approach the situation. Instead, I asked some questions, gave her some options to consider and let her come up with a solution herself. Elizabeth just didn’t learn how to navigate the “slime drama;” she learned the confidence to problem solve for herself.

I admit, motherhood helped me start becoming a better manager. Maybe it’s motherhood maturity or just lack of sleep, but I became more patient, I learned to let go of things having to done “my way” and became more focused on helping my team develop their careers and empowering them to lead. If people are learning and growing, great work will follow.

Chances are each of us has been told by our mom, an aunt, grandmother or other very influential woman in our life these pieces of advice: “Be kind.” “Be honest.” “Be open to new ideas.” “Be okay with not being popular.” “Be prepared to work hard for the things you want most.” “Be prepared to take the lead.”

I believe these are powerful words not just for moms to tell their kids, but also to guide the brands we have the honor to work with and the employees we have the responsibility to help become better professionals, too.

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