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Better Man

Before the late Bill Bixby found himself tearing t-shirts weekly as “The Incredible Hulk” and after his time on “My Favorite Martian,” he was the picture of a great dad in “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.”  His parenting style of listening, conversing and caring so deeply about his son (in an underrated series for the time) was ideal.  And, as we know, the ideal isn’t reality.  For many of us, our parenting experience as a child influences our parenting style as parents.  It, also, easily serves as our pattern in management.

For some managers, they have dealt with a mom or dad who demanded much.  School, sports, activities…all had to be completed with excellence.  There was no room for second place.  The pressure to excel was pushed by constant nagging and expressed disappointment.  There was some praise, especially if a public accomplishment occurred, but mostly conversation about improvement when home.

The response to this type of parenting often boils down to two options.  Those who choose to rise to the occasion find themselves barraged with feedback for continual improvement.  The work to be done is to make these areas better and therefore accomplish whatever the desired goal is (for the parent).

The other option is to shut down.  These children accept the fact that mom or dad will never be happy enough with their efforts.  No amount of hours worked will provide satisfaction.  The child resigns himself/herself to being a perceived disappointment, and the work done reflects a lack of motivation.

As workers in our companies, we may find ourselves reacting to management in one of these two ways.  If our managers ask us for improvement, we make the mental connection to the parental past from which we come.  Our knee-jerk reaction is to slide into similar patterns.  And the prospect of getting on the merry-go-round of seeking approval from our parent/manager seems even more exhausting (especially as we get older…so I’ve heard).

Considering how little management training occurs in the workplace (not harassment or anti-discrimination training, but real hard and soft skill management training), it is natural to fall back into a pattern that is already known.  Our parental relationship established a foundation for discipline, success, failure, appreciation and acceptance.  It makes complete sense that this connection overlaps into our work environment.

Are you the manager who expects much but is never satisfied with the work of your team?  Or are you a manager who works to be as anti-establishment and unresponsive as possible?  Stop and look at a few things:

  • Expectation – is it realistic? Where is it coming from? Why don’t you have one?
  • Team – are they qualified to achieve that goal? Have they been equipped? Do they understand the goal?
  • Self – is your worth tied to the work? Is your perspective making up for some past mistake or failure? Are you diminishing your success?

While this list may seem short, it is more than enough to get you started.  This will lead you to a series of deeper questions that are much more specific and personal.

Caring too little is not okay.  You’re not helping your team by having them participate in your fight against the “man.”  Mom and Dad don’t work on your team (if they do, I know a great counselor…) so stop fighting a fight you started when you were 13.  You’re robbing yourself and your team of achieving something to be proud of; you’re not equipping them for future engagements.  The management style by default is not working for your long-term effectiveness, and your superiors are likely to pick up on that soon.

Come back to the center of work to be done, outcomes to reach and skills needed to do so.  These few thoughts will help to get your management style functioning appropriately while getting you out of your unhealthy pattern of managing.  The fact that you’ve become a manager should let you know that you’ve got something to build on; why let a default pattern of responsiveness to authority set you back?

Listen, if Mom and Dad didn’t affirm your efforts, it’s okay.  You have become something.  You’re here; you’re making it.  The over-achieving or under-achieving attitude is only hurting you now.  You don’t work for your parents anymore; you work for yourself.  Yes, there may be a boss in charge of you, but you answer to you first.

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