This provocative thought is a useful jumping off point for people who aspire to alter their leadership capacity or approach. There are competing theories on the origins of personality. It makes sense that, despite your genetic make-up, your progressively successful efforts at navigating your way through life, will lead you to cling to some beliefs, habits and scar tissue that will get you through to adulthood. It also makes sense that how you learn to work “the system” in which you find yourself will be significantly influenced by your experience with the first complex system you encountered – your family of origin. The good news is – you made it to adulthood. The bad news is you may be due for a strategy update!

In your family, you realized there were patterns – how things got addressed or didn’t, what the family offered you and what seemed to be most important – appearances, financial security, loyalty, anger, love and so on. It is by its nature a complex system designed and maintained to meet the needs of its members. At times all members needs couldn’t be met simultaneously – which taught other lessons about power, rank, privilege, community and so on. You factor in the influence of birth order, geography and external influences (war, tragedy, illness) and you get the highs and lows of our family histories.

For most of us, these lessons are only semi-consciously recalled and invoked. Some lessons (e.g. my father’s insistence “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything,”) fall by the wayside over time because they are insufficient for the complexities we now face. Taking time to reflect on the lessons learned and how they appear in your current approach can be very useful. It can lead us to challenge loyalties we have held our whole lives. But it is important to understand the honoring of these loyalties is a choice – we can hold on to or let go of at any time of our choosing. Attempting to enhance or amplify your leadership repertoire is just such an occasion.

Here are a few questions to guide your reflection:

  1. How does my current leadership approach reflect my family history and the lessons of my childhood?
  2. Which of those lessons is working for me? Which ones are not?
  3. If I were to challenge one tenet of what I learned from growing up in my family (about power, myself, others) what might that be?
  4. How could I run a small experiment that would generate new data about working differently in the system in which I now find myself?

We invite you to explore this as a set of choices – choices you are now making that you can make differently. Pick something low risk at first. Good luck – remain curious. Let us know what happens.