The post Are you in a Tight Spot? suggests that leaders can regulate their own anxiety by becoming better observers of self.

This week we look at leadership through the lens of the Multigenerational Family System.

Families function in predictable ways in the presence of anxiety. In the nuclear family, the emotional process plays out through:

  1. Marital Conflict
  2. Symptoms in a spouse
  3. Projection of anxiety onto one or more children
  4. Symptoms in a child

These emotional processes are continuously at play and manifest in different ways. It is not a 1-2-3 linear process. Marital conflict can take the form of verbal or physical abuse. It can also play out as one parent distancing – the other parent might project onto a child in response to the distance – the distancing spouse can “see” the other spouse focusing on the child but can’t see their avoidance of conflict as a contributing factor. The physical illness of a child can serve to absorb anxiety that is not expressed through marital conflict but rather emerges through subtle non-conscious projections.

These same emotional processes are at play in the workplace: Conflict > Symptoms > Projection. If a leader can come to see how they function in the family they are better equipped to recognize these functional adaptations and respond with greater poise in the workplace.

It can be difficult to see the forest from the trees. Take a step back from the nuclear family and observe the Multigenerational extended family.

“It is easier to “see” self and modify one’s self outside the immediate living situation than in the nuclear family in which one lives” Dr. Murray Bowen.

Observing the emotional process at play in your extended family is easier because there is less at stake. Recognizing a pattern of functioning in your relationship with an uncle, cousin, niece or aunty and then modifying the part you play will build your emotional muscles. You are likely programmed to respond to anxiety in very similar ways to one of the relatives in the extended family system. Can you see yourself in the way your cousin functions? Can you see yourself in conflict by observing your great uncle and aunty? As you grow you can start to flex your muscles on different playing fields.

Last week we explored leadership through the lens of Nature. The idea of the leader as both a part of Nature and a Multigenerational extended family comes together through the research of Lynn Fairbanks who observed the leadership postures of grandmother vervet monkeys in response to a threat. These grandmothers engage threats in a non-anxious way while the rest of the troop becomes very agitated.  The daughter and granddaughter go on to become troop leaders. Why is it that these leadership traits emerge in monkeys and further that they are passed down generationally? Where are the leadership strengths within your multigenerational family system?

Next week we will explore the Leader as a Part of Social Groups.



Photo by Derek Keats