Family Ties Can Strangle Professional Relations

Article excerpt

FIVE YEARS AGO when a Minneapolis bank vice president was promoted to her first management position, she fould herself taking on a maternal role. She defended her employees excessively. She was oversolicitous and overinvolved in their successes and failures.

"I had a problem with separation," she remembers. Today she is so embarrassed about her earlier behavior that she prefers to remain anonymous.

While office families may provide a measure of comfort, support, and even stability that may be lacking in one's private life, failure to analyze office interaction may well block career success. For the office son or daughter who cannot separate from the office father or mother (or vice versa), or the office siblings who substitute temper tantrums for adult behavior, may find themselves trapped in these unsatisfactory dynamics.

Assuming family roles at the office is common, says Samuel Squires, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and president of Interactive Testing& Training Systems, Inc. in Larchmont, New York. In fact, he believes such behavior occurs more frequently in banking because the industry is conservative. Dr. Squires defines conservatism as being "almost synonymous with traditionalism, rather paternalistic and authoritarian."

"There isn't one way of behaving, one type of management," says Dr. Squires. He suggests managers ask themselves what type of behavior would be most productive for those being managed. A good manager is flexible and may employ more than one management style.

It soon became clear to the Minneapolis manager that the results of her behavior tended to be detrimental. "The employees didn't develop the kind of independence they needed to withstand criticism from others," she says. "It also made peer group relationships difficult for me because I was so involved with my little chicks." Yet the consequences were not all negative.

"There was a large group that reacted very positively," she recalls. Their careers thrived, and when some moved to other banks, she was still able to maintain very close relationships with them. And interestingly, the men under her wing tended to respond better than the women.

Nevertheless, after assessing the results of her maternal management style, she decided it caused more harm than good. Moreover, it was inappropriate. But before she changed her style, it helped to uncover the roots of her behavior.

Her last manager had been a disappointment. She never defended her employees, resented their successes, and even berated them in front of others. The Minneapolis manager began her own management career by thinking of what her old boss would do, then doing the exact opposite. This example of "behavior modeling," Dr. Squires notes, illustrates that negative role models may have as great an influence as positive ones.

Unfinished Maternal Business

However, there was more behind her maternal management style. At 30, she wanted children terribly. Her maternal urge, stymied in her personal life, came unbidden at the office. And her own unfinished business with her mother expressed itself in her acting as she would have liked her own mother to have acted.

"One's past history is always one's basis for responding," both at the office and outside of it, affirms Dr. Squires. While many professionals would like to believe that they can separate personal life from professional life at alltimes, the wish is unrealistic.

A good manager should ask himself or herself, "What is it that I need that this position satisfies?" Is it recognition or a substitute family? Is it the personal satisfaction of solving problems or nurturing othes? Or is it some combination of all of these? Understanding one's personal career goals is critical in finding the appropriate and most effective management style.

Parent-child tpe interaction is the most common kind of family behavior at the office because parental influence tends to be strongest. …