Posts Tagged ‘ authority ’

She was the office manager in an engineering firm. Every time something would break – whether a toilet or a fax machine – they would call out to her. “Betsy, the ____ is broken!” No request, just a statement. Quickly, she would arrive at the scene of the malfunction, ponder and repair the offending apparatus.   And is 
frustrated that she was always expected to do everything.

One day I asked her, “Why does everyone depend on YOU to fix things, when everyone around you has an engineering degree?” Without hesitation, she responded, “That’s how I was raised.” One of 4 children, she was always the “key holder” – the one entrusted with the key to the house. What an honor. And what a responsibility. Respected as the wisest and the most accountable, she held possession of the keys. And she was also in charge of knowing where everyone was, that everyone was safe and making sure that everything was in its rightful place.  
And yet we wonder why we end up in the same family roles and same relationship dynamics (dilemmas) that we have had in our early formative years, regardless of where we are, who we are with and how old we are. It’s really not a mystery. We are most comfortable in these default roles and relationships because it is “who we are” - and we repeat our parts in each similar situation we confront over and over. We re-enact our old pattern and we subconsciously train others to respond to us in the same comfortable ways.

It is important to be aware of what we get and what we want. Alice Walker advises, “Look closely at the present you are constructing: it should look like the future you are dreaming.”   Betsy is working on sitting still when those around her act helpless.  While it frustrates her to be the “fixer”, she isn’t sure what she will become next.  Our family and our history are where we begin….how we move forward is up to us. Making changes to old roles and responsibilities can be challenging, BUT we have to give ourselves permission to dream and change

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One of the greatest inspirations for the self-defined leadership work came from  Bennis and Goldsmith in Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader. This assertion compels us, as responsible leaders, to review and explore the impact of our family of origin.   And then to “update”  assumptions, rules and roles as we would modify any outdated operating system.

“It is in the family that we first develop a sense of our identity, our values, our aspirations and our expectations for life

It is in our families that we have the least examined and most determining experiences.

Because our family life was so powerful in influencing our views of leadership and because we often maintain an unconscious barrier to recognizing its impact, it is difficult to uncover the lessons we learned and the messages we received.”


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I was lucky to be “just like” my grandmother.

Now, many of us don’t think of grandmothers as role models for leadership.  They bake cookies and take us to the zoo.  But my grandmother was a family legend.   She could play a concerto on the piano after the concert – without music.  She took two years of Greek and Latin in one summer to gain admission to a competitive college.

All families have stories about the people and events in their history.  My grandmother was a slight woman but a force to be reckoned with.  And I was “just like her”.  I loved music, I was curious….and I loved custard.  Really!  Loved custard – just like her.

My grandmother was terribly disappointed when her mother, a woman from the “old country”, ultimately refused to let her go to college.  “College is for your brothers and I need you here”.   A blow to be sure.  As the years went on, my grandmother grew into the role of matriarch but never saw her academic or professional goals achieved.

It can be difficult and challenging to follow in someone’s footsteps.  But it can also be a gift.  I am grateful to have been inspired to finish her “unfinished business”.  I reached higher than I might have, with the desire to fill her shoes.

Who have you been compared to in your family?  How has this impacted your achievement and success?

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