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3 things I learned from my mom about being a leader

creative business entrepreneurship Mar 08, 2022
A color photograph of 4 women and a young girl sitting on a bench in a field with trees and a white building in the background. Three generations of Robertson women (left to right): Edie Manza, Susan Robertson, Erica Machulak, Ruth Robertson, and Jean Robertson.
 Erica Machulak is the founder of Hikma. She wrote this piece for the Hikma newsletter on International Women's Day 2022.


On International Women's Day, I am overwhelmed by the many things that Hikma has to celebrate. Both our team and our client list are stacked with exceptional women doing creative, world-changing work.

As I reflect on what we've built and where we are going, it strikes me that none of this would be possible without three things that I learned from my mother, Susan Robertson. We lost Mom to brain cancer in 2015. Through my work as Hikma's founder, I hope to honor her memory by striving to follow her lead. 

Lesson 1. Grace trumps flash

Mom had a soft voice and an abundance of patience, and no one who knew her well mistook either of those traits for weakness. She exercised her voice and energy on her terms, and, when she spoke, we knew to listen well.

Lesson 2. Listen first

My younger brother likes to say that people are never boring: it's our failure of curiosity that makes them so. Mom asked people great questions and created space for the answers. To this day, friends and family tell me about things she notices in them that no one else had. 

Lesson 3. Great writers try again

To borrow from my dissertation acknowledgments, Mom was my "fiercest editor and greatest advocate." She was also, am told, the sharpest legal researcher in the State of Wisconsin. Her loving, merciless feedback trained me to unknot my ideas and make them clearer in the next draft.


Erica Machulak, PhD, is the Founder of Hikma Strategies. 

Erica’s work has been published in Inside Higher Ed, Intellect Ltd, the Yearbook of Langland Studies, and Humanities, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Browse her portfolio here

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