My Family of Origin – My Work Culture

There are basically three relationship patterns in work and life; dependent, independent, and interdependent. Each is shaped by your family of origin and can, consciously or unconsciously, be found in your corporate culture as well.

Check yourself out against each of these styles of relating and determine whether you are in sync with your organizational culture or not.

  1. Dependent (Enmeshed)

In your family, the boundaries between you and other members were often blurred. The dependent parent is overly invested in the welfare or wellbeing of the children. The self-esteem of the parent rises and falls depending on how well the children are doing. Such parents have difficulty letting go of their children.

At work, leaders from such a background often prefer an enmeshed organization. They often call their workplace a family. Conformity is prized above individual initiative. Often the leadership is authoritarian with a preference for top-down decisions. There is constant pressure to “fit in” with the cultural norms of the organization. I heard of one CEO who literally demanded that his employees vote for a certain political party. The culture of such an organization can censor you if you don’t go along with the norms set by the leaders. Employees are expected to be dependent and compliant.

  1. Independent (Disengaged)

In this family system there is a strong demarcation of the boundaries between the individual and the group. Independence of thought and action is prized above conformity. Often the children live far away from the family of origin and tend not to visit very often.

In the workplace, leaders shaped by this type of family system, prize independent thought and give team members a lot of leeway on how they execute on core business initiatives. They leave it to the employee how to get the job done. They do not micro-manage. Quite often employees prefer to work independent of each other and find it difficult to work on teams.

  1. Interdependent (Balanced)

The interdependent family style values both autonomy as well as loyalty to the family unit. There is a balance between individual needs and the needs of the group. Ultimately, this is the more psychologically healthy family system.

Leaders from such families walk the tightrope between I-ness with we-ness in their organization. They give employees a lot of personal freedom but also have clear expectations around the larger issues like the corporate strategy. They have clear expectations for certain business outcomes. There is a balance between team and individual work. Generally these organizations also have a flatter management structure and defer to domain knowledge rather than rank in decision making.

The Challenge

We cannot fully compartmentalize people or workplaces into one category of relating or another. However there are observable behaviors that reveal which of the three relationship systems you prefer and which ones show up at work. Leaders also can bring their family dynamic to work and shape the organizational culture.

Your imperative is to be awake to

  • What type of work culture surrounds you
  • The degree to which it works for you or not
  • Whether or not you should be flexible and adapt to the prevailing corporate culture
  • Any changes you need to make


Your comments on this topic will be highly valued. 



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Silence Please

“All the unhappiness of people, arises from one simple fact: that they cannot sit quietly in their chamber” – Pascal

My need for silence is almost up there with my need for Oxygen. Maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration. Suffice it to say that my need for stillness has informed many of my decisions about places I visit and live and people I seek out.

I have all sorts of theories as to why I prefer silence. My introversion makes me prone to avoid noisy and busy parties and restaurants. My attention challenges necessitate stillness for maximum thinking efficiency. But above all, I just like stillness because it makes me slow down, feel alive, and pay attention.

We don’t have a television or radio in the house. We live on five acres in the country and cherish the solitude and connection with nature.

I have concluded over the years that I am not different from everyone else with my need for solitude. Extraverts need to find periods when they isolate from others and recharge their emotional and physical batteries. Busy executives need to close their office doors to minimize interruptions so they can engage in deep thought.

I am reading essayist, novelist, and travel writer, Pico Iyer’s book “The Art of Stillness”. In so doing I realize how difficult it is to find a place of quiet rest. Even as I write this article my two dogs a fighting over a dirty old bone that one of them just dug up in the garden. Give me patience!! That’s the real world however. Even monasteries can be places where interpersonal conflicts, daily interruptions, and internal dilemmas distract to some degree or another.

But here are some facts about our need for silence.

Fact #1 We are constantly bombarded by external stimuli like the phone and email that demand our immediate attention. Some people take a weekly Sabbath from them to reign in these disrupters of quiet.

Fact #2 Every time we are interrupted it takes at least 20 minutes before we return to our level of efficient thought. Furthermore, interruptions are the most stressful thing we encounter in our world no matter how important the issue or pleasant the person. This perspective is supported by the whole new field of Interruption Science.

Fact #3 Don’t run through or from life with your schedule so packed with activity that you have no time to face yourself in silence? Why? Because the true self is often experienced in those gaps we create for ourselves. Healing also comes from being awake.

Fact #4 No matter how you choreograph your life to embrace solitude it is important not to make interruptions a catastrophe. Tomorrow is another day.

Reflect on the profound words of Pico Iyer.

In an ago of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow.

In an ago of distraction, nothing could feel more luxurious that paying attention.

And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.

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Find Your Voice

There is a time to be silent and there is a time to speak out.

Think of a situation where you wanted to express an opinion but  were afraid of the consequences. Maybe your senior leaders were espousing a business decision, people were expressing a political opinion, or you saw a social injustice and you adopted an overly cautious approach in your response.

After it was all over your wiser self told you “You should have spoken up”.

Let me say that sometimes discretion about speaking out is the better part of valor. In certain circumstances it would be unwise to “shoot your mouth”. I know, because I tend to go after sacred cows and get myself into hot water.

What was going on with your silence? Why did you opt for a muted or absent response when your voice should have really been heard? Here are some possibilities.

Your culture penalizes frankness.

“Question authority” is not the watchword in your organization. Some of your leaders have a huge ego investment in their position and don’t want to even hear the most balanced “devil’s” advocate.

Advice: Treat this situation like driving on black ice. Do it slowly, carefully, and diplomatically.

Your background muted your voice.

Maybe your family or culture of origin placed a high premium on conformity to the dominant position (usually by  male leaders or parents).  In such a situation it was easier to lose your voice.

 Advice: Recognize that this may be a new day for you. Your leaders are not your parents.  Your bosses want your input even if it goes against their stated position. Learn the skills of a devil’s advocate.

You gravitate to the old familiar censoring/abusing ways.

You really don’t have to habitually jump into the swamp with the alligators. There are better options for your life. Not everyone needs rescuing (codependency) and not every bully needs you for target practice.

 Advice: Choose healthier work environments, friends, and partners.

So go ahead and have the courage of your convictions. Speak out in safer places where frankness will be rewarded and strong opinions will be reinforced.

Good luck!

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Celebrate rather than Compare

We live in a world where comparisons are the norm.

Your performance is compared to that of your peers

You look at your bigger house and feel superior to the other

You scan another’s weight and smugly view yourself as better

You get more “likes” on your posting than I do on mine

 The result.

On one hand, that comparison can spur one to greater effort and a drive to excellence.

But more than likely it can be dispiriting, demotivating, and separate us from others.

In discussing the impact of the grading system on students Ros and Ben Zander in “The Art of Possibility” write,

“competition puts a strain on friendships and too often consigns students to a solitary journey.”

 Furthermore, the dark side of competition can lead to

Pride rather than humility

Contempt rather than respect

Exclusion of differences rather than diversity being leveraged

Avoidance of a challenge rather than risking a new adventure

 A friend told me of a highly competitive academic institution where researchers hid their work from each other for fear that their work would be stolen. If they had celebrated each other maybe they would have realized the Spanish saying “juntos is mejor” (together is better).


 Would it not be more productive, respectful, and empowering for us to choose to celebrate others?

 What do we lose and what do we gain by choosing celebration?

 What do you think?






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New Year Resolutions That Succeed

It’s that time again when we start to make our resolutions.

What are yours?

To lose weight, exercise more, avoid toxic people, learn to dance?

Why are such resolutions typically a waste of time and usually have a short shelf-life?  Two reasons.

  1. They are self-focusedAnything about “me-only” is an exercise in diminishing returns. It leaves one empty and looking for more. Remember that our commitment to behavior change that is not other-focussed prevents us from learning that at the heart of all there is no distinction between “you” and “me”.
  2. They are not designed to inspireNew year resolutions are often not based on life-inspiring principles. We need big reasons that touch the heart, convince the mind, and get our feet moving to make our plans happen. Getting to one’s inspirational edge changes lives. Ours and others.

So try formulating resolutions that factor in

What makes a contribution to the lives of others?

What brings out the best in your character?

What utilizes your strengths?

What sets the bar of living high for you?

What facilitates living in the now?

May you have a purpose filled New Year.

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The Leadership Choice- Character


Tough times are the breeding ground of character.

Think about the way humility, perseverance, and generosity emerged in the caldron of personal struggle. When we fail, flounder, and are brought to our knees by unfortunate events the nature of our choices is crucial. We can ascend to be our best (humility) or descend to our more base instincts (revenge).

We can decide to be bitter or better.

Consider the development of perseverance.

We have all lost a job, had a project rejected, and been betrayed by a colleague. After the initial shock of the loss we faced a choice. We could view this crisis as permanent and so descend into learned helplessness or mild depression. However, if we view the crisis as a temporary challenge and a way to explore now opportunities, we start building the muscles of perseverance.

There are key aids to the development of character. One of them is an encounter with grace (you are loved despite yourself and your circumstances.)

Grace is always there lurking in the background. It is one of the constants in our universe. It appears sometimes completely out of left field. It pulls and prods us to the vertical dimension that some call god, others see in the acceptance of friends and family, and others as a mysterious inner resource beyond intellectual knowing.

David Brooks in The Road to Character encourages us in hard times to, “reach out to something outside of you to cope with the forces within yourself.” In that encounter with grace we find the strength to persist until we eventually accept ourselves. This is followed by the courage to take creative steps to rebuild our lives.

At the crossroads of trial, the choices we make on how we view our world and then how we choose to behave makes the difference between the growth of character or its descent into the abyss.




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Our Dog. My Teacher

Sir Geiger and co

Sawyer (The Lab) and dog-in-law Geiger

How important are our animals in centering our lives?

I often quip that our dog Sawyer is my teacher. The life lesson’s I learn from her are those where I can potentially be,

  1. Fully present.

Sawyer never frets about the future. She never stays awake at night obsessing about  innumerable “what if’s?”  In fact, controlling future outcomes (other than barking at the door for us to open for her) are not part of her thought life.

The question. How can I be more present in all that I do?

  1. Satisfied by simple things

In a world driven by consumerism we need not allow satisfaction to be measured by the accumulation of things. Rather, sitting between the front seats of the car is her definition of bliss.

The question: How can I simplify my life and fully enjoy the small things

  1. Embracing of diversity

Sawyer does not care that Geiger is different (she is a Lab-mix and black and Geiger is a Schnauzer and grey). In the world of humans, differences often signal feelings of separation, anxiety, fear, and conflict.

 The question: What can I do to accept differences?

  1. Focussed on the importance of love

Those of us who have lost animals know the degree to which the ache of their death goes to the very core of our being. The thought of losing someone we cherish makes us inclined to savor every minute we have with them.

The question: How can I fully appreciate love in my life?

Your Questions

What life questions arise from your relationship with animals?

How do they make you a better person?

How do they keep you spiritually and mentally centered?




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The Customer Care Challenge

Every organization I know believes in customer care. At Amazon executive meetings have a vacant chair at the table signifying the customer. Most employees will espouse customer care as the central organizational value and practice.

But is this always true? When is a focus on the customer just a slogan and when is it a vibrant reality?

Contrast two cases.

I knew a banker who cared passionately for his customers. He had an intimate knowledge of their dreams, business goals, and details about their families. When he died his funeral service was standing room only as the whole community came out to pay their respects.

The accolades did not just focus on his business and professional success (and there were tons of them). People talked about his character.

There was his playful sense of humor. He was the organist at his church and at times would inject into a Bach prelude a few notes from songs like “How much is that doggie in the window?”

The physicians at the hospital were impacted by his kindness and humor during his last days.

Then there is customer service from hell.

We have been trying for a month to get a phone/internet service at our property in the country. The provider keeps making promises that they will come and set up the service. Day after day they cancel the appointment and reschedule. Of course we have complained bitterly but no one seems to take responsibility. The final straw was an article I read in an airline magazine about the president of this company. He boasted his organization was distinguished from others by its customer service.


At least I know his name and he is going to receive a blistering letter from us.

Your Opinion

What, in your experience, are the central components of great customer care?


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Daydreaming Matters

Have you ever been accused of being a daydreamer?

If so, you were probably given a bad rap because it was a way of criticizing you for some perceived “non-doing” state.

Daydreamers slip into a short-term detachment from their immediate surroundings. They find themselves in a trance-like state imagining they were somewhere else. Some call this fantasy, others idle minds, but in reality it is often some of the most productive thinking we ever do.

Why then does daydreaming matter? It is the

  1. Driver of creativity. When our analytic mind is disengaged we begin to make connections between disparate pieces of information. And the boarder our interests the greater our creative ideas become. A characteristic of some of the most innovative leaders is that they have very eclectic interests, read widely, love the arts, travel extensively, and are curious about more than their immediate business areas.
  1. Explorer of new worlds. The focus in daydreaming is on the future. For a moment we let go of the constraints of the present and muse over what the world would be like in some imagined future. I heard of one CEO who asked her leaders “What would we be doing if we had an unlimited budget, no regulatory constraints, and had leaders that supported our ideas?”
  1. Engager of empathy. While daydreaming we turn off the analytic functions of the brain and cycle into our empathic self. We start allowing ourselves feelings that are typically suppressed. If we pay attention to this data we become more self-aware and connected to others. It gives our leadership a human touch.

Instead of viewing daydreaming as a self-indulgent act we need to make it a regular part of our daily schedule.

So kick back, switch off the conscious mind, and let your thoughts roam freely. After five minutes of this activity jot down the key ideas and feelings that bubbled to the surface.

Who knows what fantastic innovation will emerge and inspire new action.

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The Joy of Going Nowhere

Fall riverside

We live in a world hell-bent on going somewhere.

Questions like,

“What is your five year plan?”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“What are your dreams?”

bring valuable focus and direction to our lives. But an emphasis on “doing, doing, doing” has its downside. All our harried living in pursuit of goals complicate life, stress us out, and can push us into obsessive-compulsive performance.

I am at a stage of life where I’m done with the sole pursuit of professional goals. I suppose that it is easier to do this in one’s seventies when everything is slowing down anyway. However, in reality, I wish I’d had this focus many years ago. I know that such a perspective on life is difficult in our society, especially for men who find their primary identity in work.

So here is what happened.

We moved to the country in N. New Mexico just outside of a small village, got rid of a lot of “stuff”, and gave our television away. We planted fruit trees, learned how to fish again, and named our property


We find it amusing to say that we live on the road to nowhere (our driveway). But the name is more than an amusing aside. We intentionally named our retreat in the woods and on a river to reflect aspirations for a new and centering lifestyle. We can now experience all of our senses here in the country in a way a city does not afford us, we appreciate all the seasons, and discover that going nowhere is the essence of simplified living, being awake to our world, and greatly reduces the perpetually chattering mind.

My wife and I have not felt this level of joy in many years.

You may not be at the stage of life where you can relocate to the country but you can find islands of tranquility where you can experience that presence is peace.

How have you (can you) pulled this off?

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