5 Lessons in Leadership That Mothers Can Learn From the New First Lady
Michelle Obama has stated that her focus when her husband takes office Jan. 20 will be serving as “mom-in-chief” to her daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7. Leadership expert Jamie Woolf, author of Mom-in-Chief: How Wisdom from the Workplace Can Save Your Family from Chaos  examines how Obama will lead her family through this challenging transition.
When President-elect Barack Obama moves into the White House, his aides and supporters will celebrate his historic achievement. His wife and kids will be glad he’ll finally be home for dinner.
Michelle Obama, a high-powered lawyer and executive administrator, values family life and says she will strive to give her daughters as normal a life as possible despite their being in the public eye. While she intends to use her platform as first lady to be an advocate for women’s issues, military families and national service, her priority will be her children, not policy—especially in the first transition year.
Jamie Woolf, whose book teaches moms how to use “best practices” from the workplace to make family life run more smoothly, says that adopting business leadership strategies can make the difference between a smooth and a chaotic transition for any family. Here are the lessons she draws from Michelle Obama:
Lesson 1: Motherhood is a leadership job. By calling herself “mom-in-chief,’ Michelle Obama sends a message that being a mom means being a leader, giving her job a status not usually afforded mothers. By celebrating her role rather than apologizing for it, she connects the notion of leadership beyond the walls of corporate suites and presidential mansions to the homes of average parents. The best leaders, like the best parents, strive to provide the proper conditions in which others can grow and reach their highest aspirations.
Lesson 2: We learn skills in our professional lives that enrich our work as parents. The most effective parents don’t leave their professional skills at the office. In her career in law and public service, Michelle Obama has used many of the same skills she’ll use in her role as mom-in-chief, including conflict resolution, communication, multi-tasking, time management, crisis management and team building. Like the best business leaders, the most effective parents inspire without pushing their own agenda, nurture without micromanaging, encourage without creating over-the-top pressure, and expect the best without ignoring the inevitability of failure and the joy of learning from mistakes.
Lesson 3: Set big-picture goals. With two young children and a puppy to corral, and state dinners and sleepovers to host, the first lady will face relentless demands on her time and patience. Effective leaders keep their eye on the long view, looking beyond the task at hand to the greater purpose. By articulating her big-picture goal—to put her kids’ needs above other obligations—Obama is more likely to avoid getting bogged down in endless niggling details. She understands what all great leaders understand: that her actions and choices today have long-term effects.
Lesson 4: We need help with work/life balance. Michelle Obama has at times been the major bread-winner in her family, and she was vice-president of community affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center before she took a leave to join her husband on the campaign trail. She knows intimately the juggling act working mothers perform every day and has said she will advocate for policies such as family leave, childcare access and better health care—the issues that allow women to better balance work and family life.
Lesson 5: We need to take care of ourselves. With our endlessly competing priorities, taking care of ourselves is the first thing to go. Many mothers say making time for exercise, let alone a manicure, feels indulgent. Obama has made it clear that being an effective mom-in-chief means finding the time to rejuvenate. And when we respect ourselves, we model an important lesson for our children. “Hey, we’re the only ones who can take care of ourselves,” she told Ebony magazine, “and it makes us better lawyers, better mothers.” Good leaders keep perspective.
Jamie Woolf is a contributor to Working Mother magazine and the CEO of her own consulting firm, The Parent Leader . In her book, Mom-in-Chief  (on sale February 3), Woolf addresses real-life quandaries, provides concrete strategies and covers everything that career-oriented women need to know to unleash their parenting potential and navigate challenges with skill and grace. For more information, go to http://www.mominchief.com .