I attended a meeting that focused on father-son relationships. The people who put on the meeting interviewed a number of men and then made a video of the interviews. Many of the men said their fathers never expressed love for them. Many felt they had no relationship with their fathers because their fathers were uninterested in their lives. Many talked about these things with unusual emotion. It was clear; decades later, that these men still carried feelings of injury and anger. Speaking about their fathers was very difficult for them. I think most fathers fail to maintain a rich emotional relationship with their children. Many children thus never really know their fathers. They often feel deep anger about this fact. Yet they grow up and become fathers just like the fathers they had.
In a video played at the conference was an interview with a man named Richard. He talked about his father being a good man. Yet his father was uninvolved in his children’s lives. He only once watched Richard compete in sports. He only twice took Richard to the business the father owned. He felt that raising children was the mother’s job. His job was earning a living.
In his college years Richard found himself very angry with his dad. In the years that followed, whenever he would go home, he and his father would end up in an intense argument within thirty minutes of his arrival. Finally a friend gave Richard some advice. He suggested that if Richard did not like the arguments, he needed to change his own actions. Richard started working on becoming less angry. Eventually there were few arguments at all. Then Richard decided to take more initiative. He became more disciplined about initiating open conversations with his father. This proved successful, and over the years their relationship improved dramatically. Now Richard reserves two days a year when he pays for a weekend in a hotel in a nice location for just him and his dad. He describes the wonderful discussions they have and how much their relationship has grown and improved. He says they have really come to know and love each other.
What does this account have to do with positive organizing? One of the questions I am most frequently asked is how to deal with a toxic boss? People feel victimized and impotent because they feel abused by their boss. In Richard’s story, he feels like a victim who has been abused. There is no hope. Then he makes a choice to change the old pattern by changing himself. He chooses to make profound contact with his father. He stops focusing on his father’s faults, stops being a victim, and becomes a positive deviant. He moves to the far right of the curve and enters the extraordinary being state. He chooses to create profound contact and everything shifts.
- Is there a toxic boss in the organization?
- How do the people respond?
- What new responses are possible?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?