Are You A Critical Parent Manager?

Do you remember the first time you were made a boss? Was one of your anticipated enjoyments, “Now I get to tell people what to do?”  Authority is a powerful thing but, of course, we all learn that having authority and being effective are very different things.

I get a lot of conversations from clients about challenges “managing millennials” and their entitlement attitudes, disrespect for authority, yadda yadda yadda. Regardless of the generations we can look at a classical psychological construct with authority to see what is, as often as not, the biggest challenge in being effective as a leader or manager.

Transactional Analysis has been a pop psych icon since emerging in the 1970s, if every leader learns one of the central tenants they give themselves a great chance to manage effectively, train effective managers and have productive teams. The loop back to childhood, that many people want to poo-poo, is very real. That is, how we were/are treated by our parents initiates immediate responses when that is mirrored in authority relationships elsewhere. Were we nurtured or criticized? Challenged or admonished? Was our response one of engagement, or withdrawal? Know-it-all obstinance, overwhelmed paralysis,  or petulant seething? All the possible combinations exist in management and leadership engagements and the most astute leaders learn to first identify the right presentation in themselves and then an ability to read responses in their constituents. Rarely is managing saying a rule or process once and having it succeed in perpetuity so this is an iterative and ongoing part of leading.

TA informs us that when relationships are Adult-to-Adult the greatest opportunity exists for professional, mature progress. Unfortunately, too many managers see their exercise of authority to be one parallel to a parent who says the way things are going to be and the only reason needed is “Because I say so.”

Absolute power is highly efficient, at least for a time…but they installed suicide nets outside Chinese factory dorms for a reason. Identifying if you have a critical nature is not a sign of weakness and you can realize that your job in leading or managing is not to find and correct fault but rather to enable excellence. Think of how you feel when you are criticized, regardless of your immediate reactions what are your underlying sentiments? How long until they seep into your morale, your behaviors, relationships and attitudes?

More challenging still is that many managers will get no obvious feedback when there is a negative engagement. We consider these situations “tough” going in so we don’t expect rah-rah enthusiasm and admissions of responsibility. Silence is the most common reaction when work feelings and egos are hurt. Managers like to joke that “silence is consent” but the reality may be very far from that.

The next time you are facing an issue that needs to be “managed” examine whether or not you are engaging your team or taking them to task, or if your managers are engaging staff as adults discussing challenges, solutions, process revisions and underlying causes. Or, are you seeing a problem, deciding fault and declaring what needs to happen next–just because the boss says so. Being able to tell people what to do is a leader’s privilege, getting them to do it well is a leader’s skill.