Annie Fite
Head of Growth
Startup Contributor

What Motherhood Has Taught Me About Leadership

By Annie Fite | Tue, 07/19/2022 - 10:00

Earlier this year, I was speaking with a founder friend of mine, congratulating him on the arrival of his new son. We talked about family, and business, and all the while there was a familiar strain in his voice –I could hear the stress of those first precious months of life with a new baby weighing on him.

“You know,” he said to me, “starting a company is a lot like having a baby.”

“Yeah,” I laughed. “The sleepless nights, the constant mental fatigue. It’s true.”

He replied, “And if people knew, if I had understood, how much work it really is, I’m not sure anyone would do it.”

Parenting has been the most difficult yet rewarding experience of my life. Parenting and entrepreneurship are similar in so many ways. The struggle. The sleeplessness. The constant feeling that no matter how much you give or do, the list of things you “should” be doing never grows smaller.

Kids and startups are probably a lot more resilient than we give them credit for. That being said, the physical and emotional tax you pay to bring either to life is huge.

Here’s what I believe: That being a mother has made me a better leader. That raising children has given me the confidence and tools I need to raise a company. Below are just a few examples of what I have learned.

How You Show Up Matters

For most parents, the hardest part about babies is how little sleep you’re getting. The lack of sleep broke – nay, shattered – me more than anything else in life has done.

My first was a notoriously terrible sleeper. Once, as I held my crying daughter for the fourth or fifth time that night, grasping at the fraying edges of my sanity, I found myself screaming mad. I remember waking my husband and saying something angry and desperate as I thrust our infant at him. She wailed.

I don’t blame her. When I put myself in her tiny shoes, I imagine it was very scary and confusing for her. I would cry, too, if I were miserable and the person I loved most in the world was inexplicably angry. Being angry didn’t help her, it scared her – the opposite of the “sleep through the night” vibe I was hoping for.

I think about that moment a lot. My intention has never been to scare my children. I want them to feel safe, loved, and supported all the time, even when I am angry at the situation.

I keep this in mind when working with grown humans, too. It’s important for me to figure out how I want to show up and what I want people to feel from me before I even walk through the door. People feed off your energy.

For example, my goal with my colleagues and partners is often to build alignment and confidence. Building alignment is hard when you show up angry or frustrated. People don’t want to listen to you then. Your emotions turn them off to your ideas, often causing the opposite of what you wish – the screaming baby effect, if you will.

How you show up makes a difference. It may be the difference between a combative meeting and a productive one. Fortunately, or unfortunately, kids give you lots of practice with managing your emotions when you’re in heated situations – like when they draw on the walls in permanent markers, or your 3-year-old slaps you because you said she couldn’t have a cookie. Comparatively, keeping your cool at the board table with other reasoning adults is a breeze.

You Are So Much Stronger Than You Think

You learn so much about yourself when you become a parent. You learn new limits, new buttons you never knew you had, and most of all, new depths you didn’t know you were capable of.

I’ve realized that in business, I’ve taken that confidence with me – I can adapt and grow in the face of adversity and struggle. I know that nothing is permanent, and everything eventually passes. I will get through it – whatever it is.

Sometimes I have moments where I feel completely intimidated by the scale of what I am trying to do and build. Like when I sit at the negotiation table with companies that have a market cap greater than most nations’ GDP. Or when I realize that there are over 1 billion gig workers in the world, which means that success for Bankuish gives us the opportunity to touch the lives of one in every seven people all over the globe.

And then I remember that you cannot scare me. I’ve walked through fire and lived. I have danced with my demons to the tune of Baby Shark and walked away stronger. I’ve created life and I can do it again. I can handle whatever this beautiful startup can throw at me.

Appreciate the Journey, These Moments Are Fleeting

There are so many phases your kids go through that are not fun. Teething, limited food palettes, eye rolling – maybe every stage of parenting is difficult. I just know I miss each of them when they are gone.

A kid’s firsts are always so special. So are their lasts. The difference is you never really know when the latter is until it’s too late to appreciate it. I may never rock my daughters in my arms at night again. My youngest may never again tell me that she wants to stay home from school so she can work with Mommy.

I don’t take these things for granted. I love the time I spend with my girls. I try to be present and soak up every second of it.

Same with my days running Bankuish. The days are long. The years are short. I am thankful every day for the work I get to do and the people I get to do it with.

There are moments – like when someone new starts at Bankuish – I find myself completely humbled and honored that there are so many people in this world rooting for our success. I’m here for it. There are days when I get to meet the gig workers in the communities we serve and have the privilege of hearing their stories. I’m here for their stories. There are nights when I stay up too late and wake up too early, and I am here for those nights as well because I know this is a phase of life and that means my company is still alive, and that act of creation is beautiful.

Perhaps one of the most common adages about parenting, entrepreneurship likewise requires a village. At Bankuish, we’ve been lucky enough to have the support of countless individuals: from our employees and customers to our partners, backers, mentors, families, and friends. We are grateful to every one of you. Thanks for being our village.

And to my two fierce daughters – thanks for inspiring me every single day to be a better mom, role model, and leader.

Photo by:   Annie Fite