We may call ourselves “teams” and “families,” yet, we often don’t behave that way. In this way, parenting and running a company can be strikingly similar. Consider a group of exceptionally talented employees (or children) who are sitting on their hands, looking up to see how they could please and impress their boss (or parents)—and how they can outdo one another in the process. This is not team-like or family-like behavior. Each may work hard and perform well as an individual, but the fact that they are walking around on eggshells, not wanting to rock the boat with one another, does not make for an effective work or family environment.
In a corporate setting, those who refuse to kiss up to the boss eventually rebel and leave. It’s the same in a family. Much of the responsibility often rests on the shoulders of the boss and parents. Bosses and parents who never learn to share power with their employees or children, instead focusing on having power over them, set themselves up for struggle. As a result, none of the executives or children feels the courage to speak up, challenge, or disagree with the folks in charge. Nor do they feel the safety, freedom, or motivation to generate new energy, ideas, and enthusiasm. Leaders and parents who use their power to stifle instead of inspire are often unaware of what they’re doing to flatten the energy in their companies and families. Sooner or later, they find themselves surrounded by compliant (secretly rebellious) subordinates or disconnected children. And they wonder why they feel all alone.
By getting our egos, insecurities, and blind spots out of the equation, a leader’s or parent’s potential for effectiveness increases, as does their level of engagement and morale. And this “empowerment effect,” as I call it, begins to spread throughout the company or family.
Misuse of power comes at a high cost: whether it’s the effectiveness, integrity and productivity of an organization—or the disconnection and despair in a family. Kids and employees become disheartened when their leader/parent can’t seem to get out of his or her own way. Or doesn’t seem to care. Smart, talented people don’t stick around very long in a place where they’re not allowed to shine. Misuse of power also leads to passive-aggressive behavior and back-stabbing behind closed doors. When people feel they have to resort to such measures to survive, there’s a lot of infighting, office/family “politics” and positioning for favored status—i.e., stroking the bosses’ or Mom’s and Dad’s egos. As a result, you have a weak and fragmented management team or family. And an elephant in the living- or boardroom.
Dysfunctional teams and families breed compliant people whose highest held values are security and conformity. They won’t really speak out for fear that they’re putting their jobs and promotional status, allowance, or privileges on the line. Instead of a culture of teamwork and entrepreneurship, you have a culture of intimidation, compliance, and fear. Without the capacity to talk things out and work together, problems are allowed to fester. Effectiveness is compromised. Little issues that could have been nipped in the bud by open communication, understanding, and clear agreements spread into larger infections, and eventually grow into organizational and familial dis-ease.
This is where resentment, and wrongful termination claims, begins to seep into the organization’s framework. It’s no small surprise that these are the kinds of businesses and families that are most susceptible to crises, and the most likely to suffer from long, drawn-out conflicts.
So what kind of preventive measures can you enact to protect yourself, your family, and your company from wasting time and opportunities? And harvesting the richness that effective teams and families are capable of providing? How do you take Real Rule #15 regarding blind spots, and turn it into an actionable plan? And where do you begin?
Steps to Prevent Unnecessary Losses
Working with healthy, vibrant, well-functioning companies and their CEOs on organizational effectiveness, I’m always looking for ways they can be proactive and preventive. It’s the same with families. I start by asking two simple questions: What conversations do we need to be in to address the real issues facing your organization/family? Being in the right conversations is the key. Asking, “How can we act today to effectively address existing or potential crises, conflicts opportunities, and threats in our organization/family? The first step is to assess what’s really going on. What’s working? And what’s not? Is there a mission, vision, and strategic plan that’s been agreed on and that people in your company or family are aligned with? That includes making sure that every employee/family member knows what expected of them, what the goals are, how to complement their colleagues/family members, and what it really means to work together. Getting people on the same page in the right conversations with the right people is the best way to ensure the mission and core purpose of your organization/family are being served.
It is critical for each employee/family member and management team to understand the risks and rewards of their behavior and decisions. As a business, what’s at risk if we’re not effective? What’s at stake? Do we lose time? Productivity? Employees? Cohesiveness? Do we lose the magic of collaboration, the spark of creativity? Do we lose morale and motivation? Confidence? Customers? Profit? And what are the rewards? What do we gain? What, in our heart of hearts, do we want to see happen here? What would make years of hard work and dedication worth the effort?
Individuals, organizations, and families have a way of getting in their own way. The combination of being conflict-avoidant and having little, if any, training in direct, forthright communication can spell disaster even in the best-run, most technologically advanced companies, well-intending leaders, and loving families. So much has been swept under the rug and “the debt” has finally come due. Things begin to unravel. More often than not, it’s a slow bleeding, and people have become used to living that way. They don’t know how complacent, frenetic, miserable, and/or lucky they have become until they quit their jobs and go to work for somebody else. Or they get a new boss. Then they have an epiphany. “Wow. Not every workplace (or boss or family) is that way?”
There’s no shortage of CEO’s, managers, and board members who have achieved their success by sheer force and bullying. Nor is there a shortage of parents who think it’s their job to “raise” their children. They get their way through intimidation, control, and domination. But once they’re at the top of their industry or have taken their children as far as they can push them, bosses and parents are surprised to discover that their old ways aren’t working anymore. Or how alone they are, having burned so many bridges. They reach a point of diminishing returns. Their once-effective methods of managing and parenting begin to work against them as success and confidence dwindle away.
The strong-arm behavior that’s netted serious profits, earned a management title, or kept little kids in check, begins to create the opposite result. Because of my coaching client Steve’s tendency to intimidate and even bully his subordinates, he had gone over the line and almost been fired on several occasions. Despite his brilliance on the job (nobody was better crunching numbers), his Board had lost faith in his management abilities. He was an incredibly astute businessman, but because of the way he was dealing with people, he had lost credibility and valuable support.
How many CEOs fall prey to their own insecurities—dictating orders to their management team that could have been functioning 100 percent more effectively, more autonomously, more collaboratively, and ultimately more productivity on behalf of their fellow employees, shareholders, and customers. How many parents do the same thing with their kids? In both cases, it’s a huge price to pay. Too high. The CEOs, management teams, and families who work diligently to turn things around, end up 100 percent happier and more effective. As a side benefit, their other relationships at home and work also get 100 percent better.