JUST a Great Case of Everyday Leadership


I woke up on Mothers Day excited about writing about moms as the archetypal “everyday leaders.”  I was going to ask you if these words better described a great mom or a great leader:  they encourage, empower, stimulate collaboration, believe in their people, prepare us for the future, and serve others before themselves.  That’s mom – or great leader.  And then I cringed and scratched my head in disbelief when I opened the Free Press and read the lead sentence of an article about a woman running to be the Oakland County Executive.

“Before she was the mayor of Southfield, before she was on the City Council and before she joined the school board,” the writer began, “Brenda Lawrence was just a parent involved in parent-teacher associations for her children.”  Now, I’m not sure why the reader should set aside the fact that this woman’s been a mayor, city council person, and school board member.  But the thing that hangs me up is before that she was “just a parent.”  JUST a parent?  Huh?  Isn’t this 2008?  Just a parent is an insult to any woman – or man – who’s shepherding the most important resource we’ll ever have.

Besides, being a parent can be hugely relevant experience.  Moms, and increasingly dads, do just what municipalities do:  they make sure everybody’s fed, the bills are paid, the lights are on, the kids are getting educated, and we aren’t forgetting about grandma and grandpa.  The fact is that many — perhaps most — women entered politics in just this way.  They cared about their home, their kids, their block and their kids’ school;  then someone said:  “Hey, why don’t you run?”  Humbly – because people told them they were “just a mom” – they agreed to serve.

One more thing.  Raising children is probably pretty good preparation for dealing with the people who act like “siblings” on school boards, city councils, county commissions or legislatures.  As the writer went on to point out about Ms. Lawrence:  “In the late ’90s and early 2000s, Lawrence sometimes calmed an often tumultuous Southfield City Council, where members broke into screaming matches and one councilman threw a book, nearly hitting a city employee.”

Go Moms!  Go on ahead and lead – in whatever venue you choose.  I’m sure grateful that my mom was “just a parent,” and an everyday leader, who always

Led with her best self!


  • Wow!! Dan, you hit the nail on the head. It is becooming increasingly apparent that the folks who write for newspapers are lacking in thoughtful processing, complicite in mediocrity.

  • “Just a parent,” is an empty statement. She was we might guess a successful parent. I do not think the person who wrote the article was thinking about the possible slight that was being handed out. The reporter probably thought they were saying that a common person had risen to one challenge after another. This is what I would call a rather small example of neglect in considering how a reader will react to what a person writes.

    Newspapers have been down scaling for some years now, with the goal of making more money each year. Editors often do not edit much of their newspapers, and many newspapers do not have proof readers at all. So with the functions of editing and proofing missing we end up with far worse and confused statements in newspapers that a person was just a parent.

    When financial gain is the primary goal of a newspaper, or any business, their customers are ill served. Newspaper subscriptions have been in decline for over a decade now, but they keep cutting quality, service, and even the physical size of the newspaper, as we have seen in Alpena. Reporters are paid less today than years ago (after adjustments for inflation).

    Go to the library, and take a look back at your local newspaper as it was printed ten years ago, and then fifty years ago. What I have seen in reading my local newspaper of years ago, was that it used to be far more thoughtful, far more community oriented, far more personal and reasonable, better researched AND there was a proof reader, and the editors edited.

    When I see a mother or father in the grocery store, with two very small children in their cart, and one or two other tagging along on the floor, I marvel at how the parent keeps everything under control, while doing what can be the fairly complicated physical and mental task of grocery shipping. Add to that the time constraints of getting out the grocery store in time to cook dinner or do homework, go to piano lessons, or even have time to relax.
    Mark John Hunter – Alpena

    • Mark John,
      I appreciate the perspective you’ve given. I didn’t mean to attack the writer as to attack the lingering foolishness of what had been a patriarchal society. I would be surprised if she had the intention of deprecating the role of mom – indeed, she might have been thinking “how cool” – but words matter. In this case just is just sort of unjust 🙂

      • Dan,

        I agree with you, and hope that public writers think more about how readers will interpret what they write.


  • Dear Mr first Gentleman:
    I am so proud of you and proud of how you stand and support your delicated and hard working lady. She is truly the woman who your described in your comment. Being a woman on both side of the coin, where I am a mother, wife and grandmother as well as a career woman, an educator, an activist, and a peace rallist, I truly believe that we can do it all if we have support from our loveones. I believe the sky is the limit to reach their full potentials if women are giving a chance. Keep up the good work, remember “built it and it will come!”

  • We have diminsh the value of our most important leaders: Parents, teachers, professors and other educators. In our country, those with the largest income such as doctors, successful entrepeneurs and CEOs are held in the highest exteem. A university professor holds the most respected position in most of the rest of the world. It’s unfortunate that we put a price on respect.

  • Bravo! Dan,

    Thanks for sharing with us the importance that mothers make in the lives of children! I think of my nieces Kristine and Kendra who lost their mother to cancer while still in high school.

    Mother’s make such a difference in the development of children. Kristine is blessed to have her “G” who is always there for her; and the rest of her fictive kin who try to step in and shower her with that much needed mother’s love and affection, Kendra as well.

    I am inslted by the term “just s mother” I assure you that being a mother is my primary and most important job and I travel in excess of 3,000 miles a month.

    I think Governor Granholm phrased it best when I thanked her for attending the funeral of Kendra and Kristine’s mother. She said to me “I am here as Kate’s mother (she had Kate with her) who is a dear friend of Kristine, not as the Governor.”

    Talking about a Leader who has her priorities straight! She immediately gained the respect and admiration of all of us who were in attendance.

    The TIP Lady

  • Hi Dan,
    Wanted you to know I appreciated your column so much I sent it to my mom. She certainly is the kind of woman you talked about and I like have opportunities like this to tell her so. Thanks, Mary

  • A thought-provoking article, as always. Thank you for the good words about parents and parenting.

  • Mr. Mulhern, your article of a parent going onto politics reminded me of the importance of motherhood, especially in their fight against sending their children into harm’s way for wrong and immoral wars. Mothers must unite to pursue a more noble world. I truly believe that it is our mothers who can only bring about a world without wars. Men or fathers are really boys at heart. The only difference between men and boys are the price of their toys. Guess what? Our most expensive toys are wrapped in nuclear weapons that can destroy our world. We can never leave the fate of the world in the hands of boys, aka men.

    • Gerald,
      I agree with the first half of what you say: Women have always worried about the young, and they have great potential, especially as they “ascend” to traditionally male roles of power. On the other hand, isn’t it time for a new dialogue about men and peace and justice? I am happy to live in a world where I can express the infinite tenderness I feel towards my children. I no more want Jack or Kate or Cece going to war than Jennifer does; I no more want them killing others than being killed. So, maybe it’s time more men stood up to the devastating realities of war. Iraq is a horror to men or women, and somebody – as likely a woman as a man – will likely comment on this blog that so many others would have died if we hadn’t done this. To which I would say: just stop for a moment and count the costs of this war. Take a moment to try to imagine the anguish of parents and siblings and spouses at the loss of lives – innocent lives.

      • Dan,
        Thanks for this comment. As you know, my son is a Marine, having served eight years now and returned in April from his fourth Iraq deployment. Some six and a half years ago, as the country waited and wondered what the president might do, there was no communication of any kind from our loved ones who were deployed. The first deployment (for my son’s Company) began in January before the war and concluded the following November. The 1/7th waited for over two months on the Iraq border and were the first ones in , or as they say, “the tip if the spear” during “the march up”. We , and just about every other miltary family, had no communication from our son – until Mothers Day. I will never forget that phone call, my son’s voice and the echo on the line. I remember thinking Radar O’Reilly’s replacement turning the crank on the Army bag phone they used for the calls home to Mom and Dad. That was the one and only communication from our son during the eleven months he was gone until he called us to say he was back in the States.

        As proud as we are of our son and his service it was a surprise to us when he told us he wanted to join the Marines back in 1998. Our son entered the Marine Corp three months after his High School graduation in 1999. The follwing sums up the feelings for many parents. This is a quote from an email someone sent me for Mothers Day. The author of this much longer piece is unknown to me.
        “This is for the Moms who teach their children to be peaceful and pray and hope for them to return home from a war”.
        I concur with your idea, the cost of war is huge. I would add another thought. Perhaps the cost of was is beyound our measure. Lives are lost through death and through the effects of living through a war. There are so many losses and sacrifices that very few people recognize. This is true for us and the people of Iraq. So we wait in hope that a new understanding will emerge and the conversation will begin soon.

  • I wish the Mayor’s mom would talk with him! Or maybe the Mayor’s dad? Who is the dad and where is he? I hadn’t thought about the Mayor’s other parent before just now. I find that rather strange-gives me pause. I don’t know where the dad fits in but I do know that the Mayor isn’t acting like an ethical leader so he is missing that model whether it is missing from his mom, his dad, his extended family, his wife, his church, his community, his circle of friends? I do know that the model of admitting a mistake and taking the consequences is not one he is getting from the President of the US-the highest elected office in the land. Maybe Christine Beaty is the model for ethical leadership now?

  • Today’s piece reminds me of a job application I read recently (I work in Human Resources). A woman who had been away from the paid workforce for a number of years described those years this way: “Director of Smith Family Household, 1990-1998” and then listed what she did in general terms such as organized events, resolved conflicts, led development.

  • Great article! We all need to be reminded of the role our parents play in our lives, especially the role of a mother. Thank you for reminding us that our parents were never “just parents”.

  • Thank You!
    I remember a job interview I had after having three kids where someone asked me how I was at multi-tasking. I said, “Well, I have three kids…” I mean, Duh. Running a successful family is administrative experience, right?

  • Another wonderfully insightful article about leadership and leaders today; thank you. This one is very close to the heart as this is just the sort of thing that I preach when I hear someone who says, “she’s just a stay at home mom” as if that is not a job. Kudos for a very well written article about some of the most important people in today’s workforce: moms!

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