What to Do When Replacing a Leader is Costly and When NOT Replacing a Leader is Costly

Several years ago, I was in the play The Dining Room, a dramatization of several different families as they grow, as people die, as life happens, all in the same dining room.

I have realized this is not a specific American family that is interesting to people – this is a play that is interesting because it is about every American family. 

If we stare at generations of any family, we would see the same things: conflicts between parents and children; competition between siblings; highly touted children under-succeeding; surprise successes; affairs and divorces.

We would see modern life family dynamics.   

We seem to recognize this in a theater – in a play – as the reality of our lives.  What we don’t always see is how that reality becomes a part of us, how that reality is internalized, and how that internalization affects us. More importantly, how it affects our business.

The core conflict in the play is the depiction of how various events that happen in the rooms of the homes we grow up in, leave an imprint on us, especially from the dining room. Whether it’s a critical parent sending the message of “not being good enough”, or a parent’s divorce, events from our upbringing impact us in profound ways.

If you have spent any time coaching, or any time in psychology (I’ve spent time in both) you see this impact play out with a hundred different responses: depression, perfectionism, success, suicide, narcissism, self-doubt – there are a slew of responses to this dynamic, and they rarely end up being “healthy”.

So when I find a toxic boss or leader, I immediately go into family history.

I don’t judge behavior. Instead, I aim to understand why it is the way it is. For example, if the company is experiencing high turnover, my question is: Why is the manager difficult? The company has tried performance goals and the Employee Assistance Program, but nothing seems to help.

The company is becoming increasingly aware that replacing this leader is costly, and not replacing this leader is also costly. 

There is a solution and it starts at the dining room table.

If we understand how dining room table discussions were internalized, we can start to give the leader power over the internalization like this – You are no longer 12 and that dynamic is no longer a threat.

But we often feel that dynamic is still present even when it is no longer there.  It is just like one of the lines in Michael Cunningham’s book, The Hours, which reads, “Because it once happened, it is still happening.”

This is our lives, and if it is our lives, it is also our business lives. When we understand that business is optimized by understanding and managing this dynamic, we can actually solve the issues that plague the business.

When we don’t understand what drives the costly behavior, we lack the tools to solve it. 

Conversations bring information, understanding, and more optimized action. 

More optimized business dynamics begin with understanding the dynamics of the dining room table.

About the author 

Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT works with executive leaders who want to gain self-awareness about the impact of their words and actions and up-level their interpersonal skills. 

Drawing from decades as a psychiatric nurse and licensed family therapist, Bonnie brings a unique perspective to equip executive leaders with the roadmap to emotional intelligence that brings teams together. 

Bonnie’s leadership Turnaround coaching program has an 82% success rate in guiding leaders to replace abrasive behavior with tact, empathy, and consideration of others. The end result is a happy, healthy, and profitable workplace…sooner vs. later.

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