Leadership & management

Am I caring or am I colluding?

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Alice Lewes, Early Years Leadership Consultant

20 May 2017

I THINK I MIGHT HAVE CREATED A MONSTER! Those of you who follow me will know that my partner recently had major back surgery. We both went into this experience a bit blindly, without having really thought about the consequences of what would happen when he came out of hospital.

Suffice to say that Johnny was in a pretty bad way. He was in a great deal of pain and unable to do almost anything for himself. I, of course, immediately became an amazing ministering angel and cancelled all my appointments to take care of him.

I created a monster!

I created a monster!

Photograph by Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay

How would I link this to leadership and management? Sometimes in times of emergency or crisis you simply have to take up the reins, make autocratic decisions because things have to get done very quickly, and there is no time for the luxury of consulting etc. You might not always get it right, but you have no choice but to do all you can.

I’m sure if you were to ask Johnny when I wasn’t around, his reporting of my amazing nursing skills might well differ from mine. Running up and down stairs to respond to someone’s every wish and demand is not really something that I am pre programmed to enjoy or relish, but I certainly did a pretty good job for a while (I thought so anyway!). In other words I took up the role of a ‘Nurturing Parent’.

I am a great fan of Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis theory (TA). His theory suggests that we all have three different ego states , ‘Parent, Adult and Child’. There are two types of Parent, one Nurturing and one Critical, and there are two types of child: the Free child or the Manipulative (accommodating) child. Adult is just that – adult.

Berne’s approach is based on the belief that how we communicate with others is very much based on our formative influences and our ‘learned behavior’. I recommend further reading if you are interested as it is fascinating to see how behaving in a certain way influences the behavior of others. It has certainly helped me understand myself and my actions and how well (or not) I respond to others.

“By taking on the role of Nurturing Parent, I had inadvertently woken up the ‘Manipulative Child’ in Johnny!”

“You’re not leaving me are you? What will happen if I fall over? How will I know what pills to take? I’m really going to miss you, I don’t want to be left on my own, I’m scared something might happen”. All statements designed to make me carry on giving up everything and stay right by his side and continue the role of the ministering angel.

How often do we do this? We have a new member of staff, apprentice or we have been newly promoted, and we take over and do pretty much everything for that person/persons. Doing this gives us quite a lot of power, but as I am rapidly finding out, far from encouraging and enabling people to take responsibility and move forward, we effectively ‘disable’ them by creating reliance.

Then what happened was extraordinary. Probably because I felt/feel guilty at leaving him to go and work (I’m self employed so only get an income when I work), I found myself joining him in the playground!

I'm a monster too!

I became a monster!

Photograph by Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay

My ‘free child’ became activated, “Well if you supported me I wouldn’t have to leave you and go to work”, “I’ve been working all my life and it’s about time you looked after me for a change” – crikey, were these words really coming out of my mouth?

How often does this happen when we are leading and managing our teams? We feel criticized by someone/something, and we start behaving in a totally inappropriate way. Our free child or critical parent becomes activated. We can become very inflexible, almost start working to rule, as we don’t feel valued or appreciated. Or in my case we feel guilty.

I needed to find my adult ego state as quickly as possible. So rather than exacerbating the situation, I stayed calm and asked appropriate questions, such as. “How do you think my clients will feel if I let them down at such short notice?”, or “If you were in my situation what would you feel was the right thing to do?”

My behaving in an adult way diffused any emotion, and made Johnny see that he was being a bit too demanding and unreasonable. He was now perfectly able to care for himself (particularly as the fridge was full of lovely home-made food) and that he could certainly cope until I returned in two days time.

“By behaving in an adult way, I effectively forced Johnny up from the playground and into adult as well, so we were able to communicate in a calm and effective way.”

Monsters together!

Photograph by Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay

Behaving in an ‘adult ego state’ when you are leading and managing people can be challenging. We’ve all met the ‘Critical Parent’ manager who is very autocratic, slightly feels that he/she just has to say jump and we respond with ‘how high’. Why is this a problem? Well, because no one feels empowered to use their initiative, everyone is looking over their shoulder and the atmosphere can be quite toxic.

We have also probably all met the “Nurturing Parent’ manager who is more concerned with the welfare of the team than the task. Why is this a problem? It’s a bit like a holiday camp, with no one really taking responsibility for the task in hand. Ironically, staff motivation can be very low because individuals do not feel valued and there is little recognition of achievements.

I have now also discovered a darker side to all of this. When Johnny was very unwell I was completely in charge. He was completely reliant on me for everything, which is actually very empowering. Power, I have discovered is quite difficult to give up when someone wants it back. I had become very used to being Queen of the television remote control and am VERY reluctant to relinquish this position.

I have become so used to making all the decisions that I have also inadvertently become a bit of a monster – perhaps dictator would be a better word. I have to now step back and let things become how they were before. But I’m keeping the remote control!

One of the biggest management challenges I think is relinquishing power. I’m talking about delegating and empowering team members so that they can be developed and take appropriate responsibility. There is however a health warning here too. Be very sure that the person who you are empowering has the capability to do an effective job, because (and I am speaking from experience), once you have given away power it is VERY difficult to take it back.

I will end this blog on a very positive note. Johnny is very much better; the operation has been a success. I’m wondering – is it only fabulously great people like Mother Teresa who are eligible for sainthoods? I certainly feel that I am deserving of one after my amazing caring duties!

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