Nine times out of ten, my youngest son smiles at me when I walk into a room. He’s been like that ever since he was a tiny baby. Every year as he grew up, I worried he’d drop those easy smiles. But he kept them up, and this simple, reliable behavior is one of my very favorite things in life.
Thus a conversation with the same son last night stopped me in my tracks. As context, we were casually sitting on opposite ends of the couch, looking out at the horizon and discussing how we would get to Maine for the upcoming holiday.
Me: “I could drive my car.”
Son: “No way. It’s not safe. You’re the only one who likes driving in that Mini anyway.”
Me: “I drive it all the time. It’s fine.”
Son: “It’s not fine on a long highway trip. It’s dangerous. What if you died? The team at Grommet would be lost.”
Me (after my head violently swiveled to stare at him): “What? The team at Grommet??? What about you and your brothers?”
Son: “Oh we’re fine. But they really need you.”
Me (after recovering my breath and half laughing/half sputtering): “Listen up young grasshopper. A boy needs his mama until the day he dies.”
The conversation moved on, the Mini was vetoed, and my maternal ego was, at turns, bruised and proud. I raised each boy for independence and my college-age son was asserting that simple achievement–nothing deeper.
My son’s comment made me think more deeply about the Grommet team. The company’s developmental stage is, in human terms, probably still pre-adolescent. It’s proven its capabilities and personality, but it still has some miles to go to live up to its full potential. While my limbic reactions to my three sons are the same as any other mother’s–they need no explanation–it’s different with a company. Of course there are rich and varied emotions inspired by working side by side with a dedicated and lively team, but I stop short of using “family-esque” language to describe our relationships, feeling like this oversteps boundaries.
However, between my son’s innocent comment and a recent podcast conversation, I am re-evaluating this position. Jerry Colonna, a man the revered venture capitalist Brad Feld called “The CEO Whisperer,” broadcasts a penetrating series of conversations with CEO’s and co-founders called Reboot. Jerry’s focus is relentlessly aimed at the emotional side of startup leadership. In my talk with Jerry he broke all language barriers and went so far as to claim I led Grommet with love.
I squirmed. Maybe I was discombobulated because I am a mother and I do not think of employees as children–and that word gets too close to such a relationship. But I let it sit. It was his word, not mine.
But I also did not immediately share the podcast (embedded below and in this link) with my team, feeling vaguely self-conscious.
But then last week we took a team photo and as I went to publish it online, I felt a similar deep pride to when I post a photo of a family event. I found my fingers typing this caption: “I love these Grommet people. Every one.”
And I meant it. My son’s statement and Jerry’s analysis may have been too dramatic for my sensibilities, but I do approach this leadership role with real joy. And yes, if you make me say it, love.
Thank you Jerry, and young grasshopper, for outing me.