The last four blog posts have explored several lenses through which leaders can observe self.

This week we look through the lens of “reciprocal functioning”. In any two-person relationship, an emotional process is at play that manifests in over and under-functioning.  This functional reciprocity shows up in marriages, co-workers, parent-child relationships, sibling relationships, friendships, etc.

Leaders are acutely aware of under-functioning in the workplace. When a team member isn’t pulling their weight everyone feels the load. While it is easy to spot the under-functioning it is less obvious that the under-functioning is occurring within an active relationship process in which the leader is playing a part.

Is your over-functioning playing a part in this process?

Here are some indicators:

You are the oldest sibling

Oldest siblings are programmed to “take care of” their younger siblings from an early age. Even when parents are aware of this process and make conscious efforts to avoid placing the eldest child in an overly responsible position, the functional reality of that sibling position remains intact. The countless instances of doing for “youngers” what they could do for self program the leader in the oldest sibling position to carry this functional mode of being into the workplace. In the workplace, it becomes doing for “others” what they could do for self. A strongly developed ability to “do for others” may be driving the process of others doing less.

You often save the day

What is the bigger problem:

  1. Your inability to stand by and watch something fail?
  2. The ability of your team to succeed without your heroics?

A member of your team is under-functioning

You may be playing a direct part in the under-functioning through your own tendency to over function. If you catch yourself uttering any of the following phrases, chances are good that anxiety is driving your over functioning:

“It is easier to do it myself”

“Why won’t they pull up their socks”

“If it wasn’t for me nothing would get done around here”

You may be playing an indirect part of the functioning of your team if there is a strong over/under functioning dynamic between two co-workers who report to you.

  • The over-functioning leader who witnesses this dynamic in a team relationship will seek to “fix the problem” between two others
  • The under-functioning leader who witnesses this dynamic in a team relationship will “avoid the problem” between two others
  • The responsibly functioning leader who is self-aware and has a good grasp on their tendencies to both over and under-function will approach this dynamic with clearly defined actions in “response to the problem”

If you better manage anxiety and stop over-functioning there is a reasonably good chance that the under-functioning will automatically resolve.

Reciprocal functioning is like a see-saw: you can change the position of the other by merely moving closer or further away. Next week we will explore distance and pursuit.