The Father Factor

What was the relationship with your father like? Most of my coaching clients are male leaders and I’ve found that, along with significant life events and people of influence, the Father Factor has the greatest impact on leadership. Other psychologists specializing in the area of father-son relationships agree it is one of the most complex in a man’s life and it’s a relationship that can affect all others including those at work and in the home. The experience with your father may have been positive or negative. He may have been involved, abusive, encouraging, critical, absent or unknown. No matter how the two of you related to one another some of the most significant and meaningful changes come after you acknowledge the connection with your father. It doesn’t matter who your father was, it matters who you remember he was.

A father serves as a mentor to create a foundation or baseline for confidence, endurance and success. For males the father provides approval and self-worth, basically how the world sees you. Without that baseline you can spend your whole life trying to prove yourself. Robert Frost, the great American poet, said, “You don’t have to deserve your mother’s love, you have to deserve your father’s.”

Many men get stuck in life by expressing that they want to be just like their father or the opposite, I don’t want to be anything like my Dad. Either statement does not free you up to become the leader you want to be. Positive or negative, when you focus on being just like him or not being like him you develop a mental image of him and you become that mental image. I’ve talked to many men who have told me they never wanted to be like their father, but discovered as they matured they were becoming just like him. The answer, of course, is to create a mental image of what and who you want to be.

One of the key ingredients in leadership according to Warren Bennis is knowing yourself. In his book, On Becoming a Leader Bennis states; “Everything we did or saw, everyone we ever encountered, is in our heads. But all that psychic baggage can be turned into comprehensible and useful experiences by reflecting on it.”

What image do you have of your father? How has that impacted your leadership? Be aware that if you have children they are also developing a mental image of you. Comprehending The Father Factor is critical to being the leader you want to.

Expert Reactions:

"This was huge for me in developing leadership because I would put unspoken and unfair expectations on my mentors to father me as well. My relationship with my father was pretty rough so I would look elsewhere for this. As I matured in leadership and my faith, I realized no one could really take the place of a father. This realization helped relieve a ton of pressure on me and those who spoke into my life. These days I try and help "big brother" younger leaders rather than act as a father role. Again this helps the ebb and flow of my relationships." - Ashley Jensen, Father, Pastor, Church Planter, Leadership Coach, Recovery Advocate, Creative Media Expert, Social Media Strategist, Author & Speaker

"Great article Robert, Thank you for raising awareness! As you so clearly pointed out the original model for leadership is authority, that of course means primary caregivers...of course that means mom and dad. Due to the fact that as children our parents are the 'be all-end all' of our reality we determine what it means to be a woman and or a man from those who originally model it for us. For the first half of my own life I had a love/hate relationship with my father. The hate was everything I was told he was by my mother after he abandoned us. Psychologically this set me up to polarize him (whatever he was I would be the opposite). The challenge is the "Heads and Tails are The Same Coin." What that means is; by trying to be the opposite of my father, I was not operating out of personal choice or authenticity. Therefore unconsciously I was allowing my father to run my life, even though he (and I) had no idea. The love side was the fantasy of who I wanted (hoped) he really was.
As we step into our roles and positions as leaders if we have not healed our father issues we will end up projecting those issues onto ourselves and those we lead. In case you're unsure: That is not healthy leadership. Sometimes, it comes down to the fact that we must father ourselves!
In a recent article I wrote for LinkedIn I asked:
Can We Men Be Great Leaders If We Don't Know How To Be Fathers? If you are interested: https://www.linkedin.com/…/20140615203455-2877302-can-we-me…?"
- Dov Baron, Inc Magazine Top 100 Leadership Speaker, Next Gen Leadership Mentor

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Dr. Bob Rausch

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