Your legacy lives on in me at work.
The kind of father you have
can create lasting roadblocks
on your career path.....
Globe and Mail: STEPHAN POULTER tells WALLACE IMMEN: Friday,
June 2, 2006
Oh dad, dear dad, you've screwed up my
career and I'm feeling so bad.
That's probably not the kind of sentiment you'd want to put on a Father's
Day card. But the old man's example can continue to create roadblocks on
your career path even years after you've left the nest, says Los
Angeles-based psychologist Stephan Poulter, author of The Father Factor: How
Your Father's Legacy Impacts Your Career.
"We are all children, regardless of our age," Mr. Poulter says.
The family is the first organization we experience. And no matter how
wonderful your relationship with your dad is, the attitudes and emotional
baggage you pick up from him can create doubts, anger, shame or negative
expectations that affect your attitude and style of dealing with co-workers
and bosses, and leave lasting scars that can limit your career, he says.
Over 20 years of counselling both men and women who feel blocked and unhappy
in their careers, Mr. Poulter says he's found there are five distinct
fathering types. And each creates its own issues that must be confronted if
you are to take full control of your career.
These dads are high performers, who tend to become successful
executives and entrepreneurs. Ten to 15 per cent of families are headed by
one of these go-getters who expect their kids to follow their lead and excel
at everything they do.
However, superachievers fail to accept that anyone can do anything better
than they do. And that conditions their children to believe that, no matter
what they do, it is never enough, Mr. Poulter says.
All too often, he adds, this creates feelings of shame and unworthiness that
lead children to rebel and become underachievers.
To overcome such an effect, "you have to get beyond that by getting to the
realization that you are enough, that you are capable and can do whatever
you really want to do," Mr. Poulter says.
He recommends writing out a list of situations, such as when you face
criticism or make a mistake, that trigger negative emotional responses and
can magnify worries that small things are catastrophes.
"It is a process of stopping the wave before it hits you," he says. That
will rewire your thinking and make you more self-confident.
These fathers are volatile and unpredictable, often because of underlying
depression or addictive personalities that make them prone to drinking or
gambling. "One day they may be understanding and approachable, but the next
they may be screaming and throwing things around the room."
Ten to 15 per cent of fathers fit this description, Mr. Poulter finds.
Such outbursts make children anxious and they develop great people-pleasing
skills to appease an angry dad. While their ability to read people and keep
the peace are positives for a career, the pattern also makes people afraid
to confront problematic co-workers or raise divisive issues.
"That gets in the way of career development because they fear change and
avoid risks," he says.
Children of time bombs must consciously confront their instinct to stay
quiet or avoid situations that make them feel anxious or stressed.
By far the most common type, as many as half of all dads fit this pattern of
person, who has difficulty expressing emotion and so leaves the nurturing
and encouragement of the kids to their partner, Mr. Poulter says.
The passive types are certainly great dads -- even-tempered, hard workers
and great providers. But their children, particularly sons, don't learn to
express themselves emotionally, Mr. Poulter says. They tend to become
followers and seldom aspire to leadership or initiatives that would take
them to the next level, he adds.
To get out from the shadow of a passive dad requires creating a different
mental picture of yourself, he advises. Think in terms of potential rather
than just accepting your present role, and focus on success rather than the
possibility of failure.
In 10 per cent to 15 per cent of families, the father is missing, either
because of a marital split or because he is so wrapped up in work, he is
literally never available. This creates problems that are among the hardest
to solve, Mr. Poulter says
"Their sons and daughters may become overachievers to try to become the
father they never had."
But typically, they also develop anger and resentment over being abandoned,
which gets dragged into the workplace as feelings that they are not getting
a fair shake or that no one cares about them.
"If they become managers, they can become extremely demanding and
unsympathetic," Mr. Poulter says.
Children of absent fathers are generally independent, responsible and
emotional people who can be wonderful to know but, all too often, they have
a sensitivity and prickliness that makes people unsure of how to deal with
them. This and the fact they may resent working for male bosses limits their
potential for advancement.
Recovery for them requires letting go of resentment they feel about
abandonment, neglect and rejection, Mr. Poulter says.
This can require the help of a professional, close friend or colleague or
family member. After identifying the hot spots, he says it is important to
work on managing anger and communicating with co-workers.
If you haven't seen your father's type so far, you are one of the lucky few
whose dad gave you the best grounding for career success, Mr. Poulter says.
Compassionate mentors are ideal role models, but represent just about 10 per
cent of all dads, he estimates.
Such fathers are continually involved in their children's lives without
meddling. They are encouraging and available when needed to offer wise
counsel, but accepting enough to let their kids develop their own vision of
This type of support develops courageous and empathetic children who feel
competent and eager to take on challenges that will get them to new levels
in their careers, Mr. Poulter says.
Everyone should aspire to get beyond their own father factor and emulate the
compassionate mentor in their own career, he says. To be able to do that,
you need to let your old man off the hook and take control of your own
How to get there? "You have to say quite literally: 'I forgive you.' "
You could do this face to face with your father if he is still alive, but so
many long-held emotions are involved that he might not understand, Mr.
Poulter says. For that reason, he recommends doing it privately in front of
Make a list of at least three things you have avoided discussing. It may be
about family fights, his being overcritical or not being there when you
needed him, but read them out loud and say "I forgive you," after each, he
"Regardless of your religious or non-religious beliefs, forgiveness is a
universal truth that is recognized to transform thinking. Let him off the
hook. You can't really enter adulthood until you do."
As an added step, Mr. Poulter suggests forgiving yourself for holding
grudges, resentments and disappointments.
"It all sounds so simplistic but unless you take responsibility for your own
life, you will never really be an adult and you'll never know what you could
be achieving in your career.
"All these legacies can be rewritten and it's never too late," Mr. Poulter
"You just have to decide that your father isn't even remotely responsible
for your life and your career now. It's all yours."
© The Globe and Mail. Republished with permission. All Rights Reserved. No
part of this article may be reproduced or republished or redistributed
without the prior written consent of the copyright holder.