Dad’s Impact on Your Career

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As yet, there’s no such thing as “Take Your Dad to Work Day.” But a relationships.”

Another Point of View

Brian A. Schwartz, PhD, is a psychologist who applies a psychohistorical approach to career planning. Having counseled more than 1,700 clients, he says almost all of them fail to understand how their fathers influenced their career success, failure, or satisfaction. But he believes mothers also play an important role in their offspring’s workplace behavior, especially with their daughters.

“Parental influence carries a lot of weight,” he tells WebMD. “The boss and co-workers become stand-ins for the family. People rise to the level of success that their self-esteem can absorb, and the roots of self-esteem are a reflection of our parents. People can be very talented, but if they don’t have self-esteem, they either don’t achieve or they achieve and sabotage themselves.”

Regarding Dad’s role, he believes the emotionally absent father does the most damage. “Emotionally, the children keep going back to a well that is empty.”

But, he says additional factors, such as birth order, family dynamics, and a child’s personality type, help explain the very different career levels and workplace behaviors found among siblings, something Poulter’s book does not account for.

Schwartz, who is writing a book entitled Career DNA, believes that to move beyond the parental legacy requires dealing with the issues. “When men and women take the courage to have a genuine conversation with their father or mother, they find themselves released and able to go on with their lives. There’s no guarantee that the parent will respond in a constructive way, but it gives them emotional lubrication to move on.”

When Dad Owns Your Workplace

If Dad can affect your career even though he’s miles away and has never set foot in your cubicle, imagine what it’s like to work in the company Dad owns. It’s like throwing the father-child dynamic in a pressure cooker. (Stir in Mom and some siblings for a really interesting mix.)

In her position as senior associate with Family Business Consulting Group, Amy Schuman lives in Chicago and travels around the country to consult with family businesses and has an opportunity to observe the roles various family members play.

“The founder of a family business has to be pretty entrepreneurial to be successful. They’re usually dominant, very directive, and fast-paced. They’re not very facilitative and not good developers of others.”

She tells WebMD that in businesses that pass through generations, there’s often a pattern of a strong founder, weak son, strong grandson, etc. “You’ll hear families say the grandson is so much like the grandfather. That’s because the son has to learn to accommodate the founder of the business, and the grandson can show the same spark as the founder if Dad isn’t threatened.”

Like Schwartz, she says siblings grow up to be very different from one another in spite of having the same father. “Siblings are the most diverse group in terms of style. It might be two who are opposite, or four who go different directions. Then the siblings have to find a way to manage that and deal with vision.”

She explains that becoming an adult requires separating from parents, but that if kids differentiate too much in a family business, it can threaten Dad and the unity of the family. “If kids have to pay the price of their own individual identity in order to be part of a family business, it’s very damaging. But if they can manage to differentiate, it’s tremendous.”

Going to Work Without Dad

Poulter is optimistic that adults can move beyond the father factor to realize personal and career satisfaction. He ends his book with “Seven Steps to Success”:

  1. Make a commitment to change.
  2. Improve your self-awareness.
  3. Identify your triggers.
  4. Don’t allow your mistakes or career setbacks to derail your commitment to change.
  5. Be aware of old, familiar father factor habits.
  6. Get a support system in place.
  7. Determine what success looks like, and set your goals for achieving it.