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How being a boss makes me a better mom

Being an entrepreneur takes blood, sweat and tears — which sounds a lot like being a parent.
Image: Elizabeth Chambers Hammer
For Elizabeth Chambers Hammer, being a mother and a leader in the workforce is a symbiotic relationship. John Russo

I often refer to BIRD Bakery as my first baby — and for good reason. When I started my business almost six years ago, it was by far the biggest challenge of my life. Six years, two locations, hundreds of employees and two children later, starting and running my company is still the most difficult task I have ever done.

As an entrepreneur, you pour your heart and soul into your dream. It takes countless hours of blood, sacrifice, sweat and tears and there’s NOTHING you wouldn’t do to witness your dream come to reality. It is a full-time, non-stop job. Which, incidentally, sounds a lot like being a mother.

I will be teaching my children: If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s going to be extremely hard to get there.

My hope is one day my children will work at the bakery, starting from the ground up and eventually take my place in running the business. Our employees are always so welcoming to them. When we come in everybody greets Harper, my daughter, and they put her right to work! She likes to be involved in every aspect of the bakery. She’ll tidy up the floor with her little dustpan or say hello to whomever I’m speaking with on the phone. Everybody really involves her, and I feel like there is a real understanding between our children and our employees and that’s so important to me.

Image: Bird Bakery
At Bird Bakery, in San Antonio, Texas, baked goods are made fresh every day, and unsold items are donated to local non-profits.Manny Rodriguez

The truth is, being a leader and a boss has helped me be a better parent. I can already tell that my daughter Harper benefits from watching me fulfill my duties as a business owner. She says, “Mom, are you doing Bird Bakery? Is that for my future?” and I’ve never said that to her, I don’t even know how she knows that phrase! But I tell her, “Yes, this is for your future." To me the best way you can live your life is through example; that way [my kids] know that they can fulfill their dreams. I can genuinely say that it makes my job as a mother feel much less challenging.

Being a leader has taught me the importance of utilizing my time wisely and putting systems in place to maximize efficiency both in business and in life.

I’ve realized that the beauty of motherhood is that you have fewer people to answer to (thank God children cannot give you Yelp reviews) and you know when you’re doing the best possible job. Yes, there’s always room for improvement, but there are fewer moving parts and as the owner of a company, at any given point, you know there are dozens of policies, procedures and systems that could absolutely be improved upon.

Without systems, time management and organization, being both a boss and mom would be far more challenging. In order to make life less taxing, I prefer to plan everything at least one month in advance. I try to employ those standards both at home and at the bakery. Currently, I have our next four months scheduled at home. I know things will always pop up, but it’s really important to me to put things on the calendar, as far in advance as possible. It’s the same at the bakery; I don’t expect my employees to be able to rearrange things at four days notice. All of my staff has their schedule one month in advance that includes front and back of the house at both locations.

Being a leader has taught me the importance of utilizing my time wisely and putting systems in place to maximize efficiency both in business and in life. As a working mother, you always feel you’re being taken away from something. I find the best way to manage that is to focus on the task you're doing. For example, when I’m pushing my daughter Harper on a swing and checking my emails at the same time, I know she can tell that I’m not fully engaged. If I’m talking to an employee at the bakery, and I’m texting my husband or face timing with my kids, then no one wins. You can multitask when you’re alone or at your computer, but in interpersonal communication, there is no such thing.

When I’m with my children I try to put my phone down and not check it, and when I’m in a meeting at the bakery or working, I attempt to stay focused. However, I constantly feel “the pull” moms feel in terms of being a working mom and a leader; you always feel you’re pulling a little bit out of your career or your family. It’s not always easy, but you teach by example. My mother taught me that. She is an amazing businesswoman and an equally incredible mom, and I hope I’m setting the same example for my children.

I’ve also become acutely aware of the varied personalities and thought processes that people possess. As a leader with over seventy employees at any given time, I have learned that no two people communicate the same and, when given a task list, almost every person gravitates and fixates on different elements. Some people thrive on interpersonal relationships, while those types of interactions may intimidate others. Every person is different; we all have individual strengths, weaknesses and preferences. I believe that these realizations have helped me become a better parent.

Much like our employees, children want to be heard, validated and valued. To do this effectively, it’s essential that I shift my approach based on their personality.

All children listen and communicate differently — we’re not all wired the same by any means. Our daughter is very direct and very opinionated. She essentially has my personality to "a T." I have found that responding to her with a direct approach can be very advantageous. Our youngest son (Ford) is only six months old, but his personality already mirrors that of my husband, relaxed and laid back. Identifying the most effective means of communication for personality types and conversing accordingly is imperative.

Much like our employees and our guests, children want to be heard, validated and valued. To do this effectively, I found that it’s essential that I shift my approach based on their personality and preferred method of communication, exactly like I would do in my business.

As parents, we want our children to feel fulfilled, passionate, purposeful and productive and to have goals that are achievable, yet challenging. Setting short and long-term goals for myself was an intricate part of how I was raised, and I plan on incorporating that into my children’s daily activities. Even though I’ve only spoken about the importance of setting goals and the importance of following your passion on a minor scale with my daughter, I will be teaching my children if you don’t know where you’re going, it’s going to be extremely hard to get there.

As a business owner, I have the exact same hopes for our staff. I want their hearts to be in their job and for them to feel passionate and fulfilled both when they come into work in the morning and when they clock out at the end of the day. I realize that it is not always easy to maintain excitement about work, since one’s routine can easily become monotonous. I know that is human nature to some extent, but it is my mission, and the mission of our management, to ensure that our staff feels the same level of excitement as I would want my children to feel about their own work one day.

Many different types of 'parenting' can be successful in the workplace; it’s less about micromanaging and more about creating a culture within a company.

As a mother, you have a direct line to your children and can implement those values daily and directly. As a leader, while it’s not possible to have a personal relationship with each and every team member, it becomes necessary to establish a culture emphasizing these attitudes, which can often feel like satellite parenting. Through my experience, I’ve found that many different types of "parenting" can be successful in the workplace and have realized that it’s less about micromanaging and more about creating a culture within a company.

With the exception of risk taking (not the most highly valued attribute for parenting), there are many correlations with being an entrepreneur, leader and boss that cross over to parenthood. As a parent and entrepreneur, we give it our absolute all with the hope of one day being able to watch our baby develop, grow and thrive. Yes, there will be missteps along the way and there will be heartache, but like everything in this life, I truly believe that we get out of it what we put in.

Elizabeth Chambers Hammer is the CEO & Owner of BIRD Bakery, Chief Correspondent for the Human Rights Foundation and serves as a judge on Food Network's hit Cupcake Wars and the Cooking Channel's Sugar Showdown.


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