Parent as Manager, Manager as Parent
Monday, 14 February 2011 10:10

The Need for Personalization, Objectivity and the Imposed Power of Containment:

It serves corporate managers well to have played and to continue to play multiple life roles. In addition to self-awareness and healthy self-confidence, the only other “super ingredient” senior managers of proven excellence would add is that of being a natural, avid reader. Learning about how others lead or were led through the challenges and defeats of their lives allows for the experience of identification, a key aspect of self-education and growth.

As a psychotherapist, corporate manager, client, consultant, investigative agent, “teacher”, speaker, mother, and more, it has often occurred to me that to limit our view of “managing” adults to one of dealing with and ensuring output from people over the age of 21 in an organizational environment is distinctly limited, both as an approach and as a way of thinking. The managerial non-process leaves so much out and presumes so much about individual behaviour on both sides of the manager-employee equation that it invites what it has most often reaped – random good work, acceptable mediocrity, and contained and camouflaged failure.

Parenting Parallels

As is the case with managers, we as parents have to manage our subjectivity – our reactions, vulnerabilities, strengths and acceptable deficits in relation to the child or adult we are purporting to guide.One of the many ways in which we create glitches as managers reflects assumptions and related glitches that we make and face as parents. Just as managers have long treated new and other employees in a random, subjective and homogenized way, regardless of the overlay of the latest modus operandi from the latest modus guru, we tend, according to our well-meaning parenting style of choice, to approach two or more children as if they thought, reacted, and were genetically sensitized in identical ways. However, even studies with identical twins indicate that we have to be personality-specific as we “manage” children to adulthood. In addition, as is the case with managers, we also have to manage our subjectivity – our reactions, vulnerabilities, strengths and acceptable deficits in relation to the child or adult we are purporting to guide. The obvious, additional, multidimensional (and unique) challenges presented by parenting and managing adults aside, one key foundational element must be present for either process to be successful. When that factor is ignored by organizations, painful and potentially polluting problems lie down the road. Attentive parents who love their children also regularly pay a price for not imparting what is arguably the most significant aspect in the internal and external development of a child. This foundational factor, the element of containment, also referred to as the “embrace factor” or the “envelopment factor", provides a child with a combined sense of “parameter safety” and “parameter power”.1 The factor and condition or state provides a common basis from which either a child or adult can grow, experiment, take moderate creative risks, make mistakes and self-discover. However, just as importantly, it affords the child or the employee-adult an equally healthy sense of restriction.

Restriction, Structure and Discipline

Restriction speaks to both structure and discipline. From day one, corporate management ideally conveys, directly or indirectly, the structural ethos of the organization. This includes expected levels and quality of productivity, office behaviours, dress code, interactive styles, implicit and explicit boundaries and, critical to the employee and the entire organization, a vivid sense, and, soon, conscious knowledge of organizational right and wrong. Short of hurling ugly obscenities or gun-slinging, even a new employee, if provoked, knows where to stop, and not to cross an assiduously defined line of decorum. A similar self-reigning and self-protective effect kicks in for a maturing infant and then toddler. In theory (and practise), by the age of four, a child is exploring and growing in the ways mentioned above. However, at the same age, the child must also be able to sense and be receiving cues, both subtle and blunt, with respect to restrictions on his or her behaviour, overall conduct, family and extra-familial interaction, a sense of the importance of good (considerate, fair, and acknowledging) connections with others, soft-firm expectations with respect to self-development, and a distinct sense of the limits on his own power with respect to cause and effect. In other words, referring here more to the child (but still relevant to the “adult-child”), the toddler should already have a sense of the “benevolent power” of his parents. Without this latter component of a child’s mental-emotional development, the child inevitably comes face-to-face with the darker elements of his inner world – urges, reactions, intolerances, ego fears, the related will to attack, and more. If this is not imparted, the child faces these elements alone, sometimes tragically and always presenting of significant, belated parental challenges related to enforcement, the balancing side of creative restriction. Without laying, imposing and imparting this dual foundation early in the life of a child, the child and the family eventually suffer to one degree or another. Without balanced restriction, the child can proceed, stunted and struggling for independent expression, or, alternatively, he can evolve in terms of individuality and expression but play a temporary or permanently destructive, tyrannical role in his family. Inevitably, the child then carries the presumption of power and the consequences of his own control and delivery of cause and effect into dysfunctional young adult and adult relationships.

Whether one is managing an adult or a child, containment is an essential factor when it comes to both providing creative growing space and creating a sense of present, protective, if not always jolly power. The sense and later awareness of an external power, an arbiter bigger and stronger than what a child or even a child-adult can conjure or have to face, is a protective and disciplinary force critical to child development, as well as to employee loyalty and commitment. In balance, the two elements of the containment factor provide a safe place to create and a safe place to experience the human being’s inevitable sense of his own potential for cruelty, selfishness and feelings of profound alienation. Individuals growing in a positive context need to see the gate that locks them in against themselves, as well as the gate that they will open so that they can test themselves in the world. That is, when they are sufficiently equipped for participation and contribution, as well as for the life-critical element of self-containment.

As both parents and managers, we apply a managed, objective process to the subjective process of cultivating and preparing viable human beings. We do this by creating a context of balanced restriction and by allowing for individual variations guided by personality type, intensity of temperament, intelligence and early or previous influences. This, in various subtle ways, is also how we can bring out the best in others by leading, and, if we are lucky, by containing and guiding a few, in context, to be leaders themselves. However, it is a process that has to be learned, and evolve without old and easy presumptions and an unconscious commitment to doing and giving less.


1 “Containment, Embrace, Envelopment and Restriction Factors” are TM and copyright terminology, the rights to which are held by Dr. Lauren Enterprises/BWI. They are more fully discussed in a book due out by August 2011.

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3.26 Copyright (C) 2008 / Copyright (C) 2007 Alain Georgette / Copyright (C) 2006 Frantisek Hliva. All rights reserved."