Maybe being a mum really would make you a better prime minister

Those following the turbulent political goings on in the UK over the last few weeks may be forgiven for not catching every little controversy, conspiracy or cockup. There have been rather a lot. One particular faceplant got the chattering classes chattering extra chattily and that was one the then candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Andrea Leadsom, made a rather silly comment.

In an interview with The Times Leadsom suggested that, being a mother, she would make a better PM than her rival, Theresa May, who is childless. She felt that motherhood gave her a greater and more direct stake in the future of the nation.

This assertion was, to put it mildly, frowned upon by pretty much everyone. Feminists, mothers, unmarried and childless men and women, Tories, liberals, socialists. It didn't go down well.

But I'm starting to believe she may have had a point. Not the point she thought she had (which was utterly stupid) but a different one. I'm thinking that maybe, being a parent, could make you a better leader not for any silly reasons like "a stake in the future" but simply by dint of making you more creative.

Just over a week ago my wife and I hosted three of our niblings; Rya, 15, and Max and Amy, 12. We took them to an event called Hyper Japan, a celebration of Japanese and Asian culture. I'm rather proud that Rya has grown into such a little geek and helped bring her younger siblings along for the ride. I feel it's my influence at work. I showed her her first anime, you see. But I digress.

During the visit I learned a lot about Japan, the broad differences between J-Pop and K-Pop and how, despite my best efforts, I have definitely grown up (or at least some version of it). But I also noticed how being around young people and new helped reawaken my playfulness. This manifested in something entirely trivial which I will illustrate below.

This is a small wooden kitten that lives in our conservatory.

This pose is supposed to look playful and cute but I've always hated it because, to me, this looks like the kitten has just been shot in the chest and is currently bleeding out while calling for help.

I had never realised that it was possible for this kitten to look any way other than this. But for some reason, on Sunday morning, the day after Hyper Japan and having had my head filled with playful, strange and interestingly youthful behaviour for more than a full 24 hours, I had a breakthrough.

I did this.

I realised that I could make the kitten breakdance.

I told you this was trivial but stay with me here.

I often talk about the easy relationship children seem to have with creativity. In children this is manifest in playfulness most often. Playfulness lightens things, loosens them, broadens them. And it rubs off. Just spending a weekend with my nieces and nephew helped me to feel playful. Just a moment of playfulness helped me to see something differently. Something trivial but then that's what I was focused on. I've no doubt that, had I been trying to solve a big, crunchy problem at the time, I would have found this playful feeling helpful there too.

Which brings me back to my initial thought – perhaps parents really do have an advantage when it comes to leadership?

We know that leadership is a creative activity. Remember our working definition of creativity: problem solving under conditions of uncertainty. Well, you can't get much clearer an example of that than leading people. People are, above all else, complex and unpredictable, that's some uncertain conditions for you.

Since playfulness is a key component of creativity, and if spending time with children makes you more playful at heart, it would follow that being a parent might indeed make you a better leader and, potentially a better prime minister.

Of course, if there's even a smidgen of truth in this whole thing then that sets up an interesting imperative; not only do we need to do more to get more parents into the workplace, we also need to do more to get more leaders to spend more time with children – their own or otherwise.

That means valuing and celebrating family time and lots and lots of mentoring and educational outreach work in schools, including with younger children. It's not just good for the kids to get exposure to accomplished professionals. In fact, the adults might be getting the better end of the deal.


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