I’m not talking about “Bring Your Kid to Work Day.” Here’s a truly scary thought for you – since few of us got training in human and group dynamics before we entered the workforce, it stands to reason that we bring to work the only human dynamics experience set we have: Our families. YIKES!!!
I don’t know about you, but I find that alarming. Just a few examples:
- Leaders who play out their sibling rivalry issues with their peers. Ala: Mom and Dad always liked my cute, manipulative little sister better than earnest and talented me…and our CMO sure reminds me of her! Therefore, I don’t trust her and I think she manipulates our CEO.
- Authority issues. Ala: Dad was such a demanding, authoritarian jerk. Now I really want to be ME and do things MY way for a change. I’ve always known I was right…now I’ll prove it.
- Need to finally get the recognition you deserve. Ala: I never got the recognition I deserved from my parents; they were so withholding. They never told me I did a good job, even if I got straight A’s and caught the winning pass. Maybe….just maybe…if I work REALLY hard (and maybe suck up just a bit), I’ll get the recognition I deserve at work.
- Secrecy and fear of retribution. Ala: When I said what I thought and believed, it went really badly for me growing up. I’m sure not going to do that at work! Transparency? Trust? You’ve got to be kidding!!
- Golden child syndrome. Ala: I was always the hero child—and rightly so! This company and this team need to wake up and recognize that! I think I’ll tell them just how great I am and how everyone else has always seen that! Some people say I have a sense of entitlement. Ha! They just don’t get it!
In our executive coaching and team alignment work with clients, we see these dynamics at work every day. When we administer our Delta 360, we see these very issues show up in low scores on items like:
- Creating a client of trust
- Being open and approachable
- Building strong peer relationships
Every one of those bullet points above has a huge impact on a person’s leadership, ability to achieve cross-functional outcomes, and effectiveness. In our executive coaching work, we find that the roots for these organizational issues often go straight back to family.
How can you escape bringing the patterns of your own dysfunctional family dynamics to work? Here are some ideas to get started:
- Self-Reflection. The best leaders I know are well aware of the dynamics they carry from their upbringing. They’ve done (and continue to do) the hard work of exploring that and they are intentional about not bringing those behaviors to work.
- Break the Cycle. Ample research, including genogram analysis of family patterns, demonstrates that we are highly likely to repeat the behaviors we experience in our families. Children of alcoholics often become alcoholics. Children of abusers are often abusive. But the patterns are not always immediately obvious, so look for the subtle ways in which you may be repeating the dysfunctional patterns of your family even when you think you are doing the opposite. For example, are you perpetuating a dictatorial and controlling parent’s style by being equally controlling but in a sweet or manipulative way? To break the cycle, you first have to recognize it. Then you have to work intentionally to change those behaviors.
- Get Feedback. Ask for feedback from the people you work with. Does it feel safe to approach you with bad news? Do you share information or withhold it? Do you share the glory…or just the blame? A 360-degree assessment is often the very best way to create a safe place for your colleagues to give you honest feedback.
- Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater. Everything we learned from our families wasn’t bad! 😊 What good things did you learn from your family? Did you learn to show love and acceptance? Did you learn to forgive and show grace? Did you learn resilience? Did you learn to celebrate and laugh? Every workplace needs a bigger dose of those things so find ways to import the best of your family experience into your workplace.
Our family experience is the biggest experience set most of us have in how people interact. Some of what we learned can be pretty horrifying. Some of what we learned can be inspiring. Be in the driver’s seat of whatever part of your family life you bring to work. You’ll be a better leader and team member for doing it thoughtfully and with intentionality. And it just might set you free of some patterns that have tied you down for a lifetime.
Bonus point: If you are very brave, ask your team to read this blog post and share some part of their own family dynamic that they have brought to work from time to time. And you have to be the first to share. It can build a whole new level of trust and vulnerability.