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Key Leadership Skill: Re- parenting Self

 KEY LEADERSHIP SKILL: Re-parenting Self

This blog draws its rationale from the transactional analysis concept of the Parent ego state. That part of ourselves with which we seek to manage our lives through the beliefs, values and ‘shoulds’ about self, others and the world. Leaders may be seen as having a particular role and responsibility in offering a positive Parent to others in order to support the learning and vitality of the organisation. To offer it to others, they have first to offer to themselves. Updating and re-parenting self may well be an exciting and demanding prospect in times of turbulence and dramatic change.

Currently in some organisations the positive Parent is profoundly challenged, perhaps on occasion to the point of fragmentation:

a)   Core assumptions and beliefs about the organisation may be in turbulence; for example, ‘ This is not the organisation I joined; sense of vocation has been replaced by ticks in boxes’.

b)   There may be inconsistent parenting from the senior leadership team; for example, there is a stark mismatch between ‘espoused values’ and ‘ values in action’. (Chris Argyris and Donald Schon); a senior leader stresses the need for loyalty and then bails out at the earliest opportunity.

c)   There may be unpredictability between members of the senior leadership team: certain actions and values being emphasised by one person, then downplayed or ignored by another.

The next tier of leaders below may consequently no longer feel  ‘ held’ whilst wanting/needing to hold their staff. The fragmentation of the Parent at these middle, though possibly still senior levels may also be compounded by the loss of ‘ sanity checks’; that is, those peer colleagues to whom they were once able to turn to check reality and fantasy, “ Am I going crazy or does this directly contradict what we were told last week?”. This loss of sanity checks can be for several reasons:

a)   Trusted colleagues have moved on; sometimes very quickly without the opportunity for proper goodbyes.

b)   Colleagues, once trusted have sought self-protection by entering the world of political intrigue.

c)   Truth telling is now seen as too risky.

A consequence of the fragmentation of the Parent is that:

a)   It becomes increasingly difficult for the leader to offer appropriate Permission, Protection and Potency to others. (Pat Crossman); this at a time when these qualities may be vital for the vitality of the change programme being undertaken in the organisation.

b)   It becomes increasingly difficult for the leader to offer Permission, Protection and Potency to herself; arguably, a necessary precondition to be able to offer it to others.

Much of this can happen outside awareness. Just as people can become so stressed that they no longer realise how stressed they are and consequently become ever more stressed, without realising it; until perhaps something dramatic happens such as a near miss on the motorway, the death of a close friend, a major confrontation at home……On this theme of awareness I am also reminded of the dual nature of rituals : they can be a conduit or a block to  intimacy with self and/or others; they may even merge from one to the other. A regular coffee with a friend may be nourishing for both parties but then become havens of misery; or perhaps one of the friends spends too much time listening to and supporting the other; he feels drained and resentful because of having yet another person to look after.

Within such an environment reflection becomes more and more necessary, but takes place less and less; it is too painful and scary as that which is avoided/denied/minimised accumulates then it becomes ever more scary and painful. So the emphasis will switch to delivery at all costs, no matter how superficially it has been thought through. In a political climate whether with a BIG or small P, being seen to be busy is highly valued because it gives the illusion of action and achievement even when it is simply the sophisticated avoidance of dealing with key underlying issues. Hence, in some extreme cases, the persecution and  punishment of whistleblowers. Part of the environment/culture may be one where there is increasing anger, which is increasingly denied. Consequently:

a)   The anger may be directed at the most vulnerable. For example, a sensitive and caring colleague or an anxious junior member of staff may suffer the consequences of outrage which should, more appropriately be directed at those who are the key decision makers.

b)   Small irritations may lead to the discharge of fury. Where, for example, the person feels that they have a very clear and easy basis on which to express that feeling, then suddenly all the other angers come to the surface and there ids fury about the coffee not being as hot and milky as usual; stamps (Transactional Analysis) are cashed in.

The whole dramatic and embarrassing experience may then be seen as further evidence of the need to suppress the feeling. In all this, simple truths emanating from Child Wisdom may be lost, or at least submerged. Hence the importance of the leader RE-PARENTING herself.

With this in mind, I offer some suggestions about how this might be done, whilst at the same time I recognise they may be statements of the obvious. However, in the environment described above the obvious can easily be lost.

I suggest that the leader pays attention to :

a)   Ensuring that she has a good support network and regularly reviews it; for example, some of the relations may have become a bit too one-way or even toxic. Are her expectations realistic bearing in mind the changing cultural context? For example, is she now looking for a lot of emotional support from those who truly cannot/ will not provide it? Is there sufficient diversity in her support network? It can be reassuring to be in close contact with those who see the world in the same way; at the same time it may lead to closed minds or even ‘group think’ (Irving Janis).

b)   Giving herself permission to ‘be in the moment’. ‘ What is really important for ME now?’. ‘Do I need an extra few minutes, or even longer, to take stock?’. ‘Do I know what is truly exciting me or have I spent so long role-playing excitement that I no longer truly know what it is?’.

c)   Reflecting on accessibility. Perhaps she too readily allows others to interrupt whatever she may be engaged in. In her desire to look after others who may seem anxious and lost she fails to look after herself.

In all this, the parallels with parenting and appropriate Permission, Protection and Potency are hopefully clear. There is a need for space to play and experiment, but with appropriate safety. The greater the Permission, the greater the need for Protection. (Stan Woollams and Michael Brown). In all this, creating an environment where the Child can get in touch with her own Potency- excitement, creativity and sense of self. As already stated, in offering these qualities to herself she is then better able to offer these qualities to others, whether directly or indirectly.

Keri Phillips 2014,  CSA Supervision Graduate