Relationships in Transition

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A couple of my friends have had adult children who moved back in with them. In one instance, a son returned from a long term overseas assignment to restart his professional career. For another, a son lost his job, and estranged from his wife, moved home.  I learned from both these friends the importance of openness and compassion in the midst of change.

These transitions, for both child and parent, are difficult. The found space that parents retrieved after their children began their adult life is taken over by their children whom they love. The question that nags in these situations is, "What should our relationship be now?"

Transitions in life and work are not simply processes of change and economic reordering of life and work. The social and organizational contexts that encompass them are intensely relational. They strain the well-worn path that relationships built over time develop.

When life altering change comes, and we find ourselves in transition, we need to focus on the social as much as the practical questions of job search and finding a new place to live.

Long-standing relationships develop a predictability that becomes expectation for continuity. Disturb that pattern, and relationships become frayed.

Something as simple as a job change that requires a move can become highly disruptive. It isn't just the one employed who moves, but the whole family who is uprooted to a new place to establish roots in a new place.  If the family unit is fragile, the transition can be more difficult than it should be.

When we enter a transition space moving toward that point where change is made and a new course is set, reflection, communication and a refocusing of values is needed.

Reflection is a form of self-criticism that enables us to see the logic of change in the midst of the transition.

Communication allows us to see a broader picture as we discover how those who are also impacted feel. We listen and learn from them how best to manage the transition.

Refocusing of values serves to ground us in what is matters most to us, which serves to focus our purpose as a vehicle for those values to live.

All of this is best done in open and honest conversation regularly scheduled.

If you are a parent whose adult child has moved home, talk with one another about how this is personally impacting each of you. Discuss what is important in the function of the home, and reach an agreement on the basics of living under the same roof again.  While the adult child is still a child to the parent, and the parent to the child, they are also adults who should share responsibility for living together again.

If you are in transition, and find yourself, living at home again, especially after years away, recognize that you are not reentering the home of your youth. You have entered a social environment that has changed. No longer is this place oriented around the nurture and protection of children. Your parents, while they still love you, have moved through their own transitions into new stages of their life as adults. There is a place for adult children in the lives of their parents. But it must be discovered, and not merely assumed it is an extension of what their childhood was like.

Change is hard. It doesn't have to be as hard as we make it.  All is required is for us is openness for the relationship to be what it needs to be today, not as it was in the past, or wish it had always been. Going through the transition points in our lives are hard enough without our relationships becoming an obstacle to positive change.

A Support Plan for Relationships in Transition

My proposal is not a widget that fits every situation, but can beneficial in many situations.

Simply apply the Five Actions of Gratitude to how you live together in the midst of change.

This is a tool you can use to negotiate how you live under the same roof again. A simple translation could be something like this.

Say Thanks - At least once a day, with sincerity and specificity.

Give Back - Take responsibility for caring for both the private and shared spaces.

Make Welcome - Be hospitable to one another. Be open to the gifts that you have to offer and receive. Think of this as a new relationship.

Honor Others - Even at the most difficult moments, treat one another with dignity and respect. Be honest, caring and trustworthy. Be apologetic and forgiving. Be kind to one another.

Create Goodness - Establish new paths of interaction and sharing. This is particularly true in the transition is to be lengthy.

Practice these things, and the transition will go more smoothly, and new dimensions of your relationship will emerge.

The Uncomfortable Nature of Leadership

Tribes cover

My friend David Pu'u pointed to Seth Godin's post on the uncomfortableness of leading where he quotes from his bestselling book on leadership, Tribes.

It’s uncomfortable to stand up in front of strangers.
It’s uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail.
It’s uncomfortable to challenge the status quo.
It’s uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle.

When you identify the discomfort, you’ve found the place where a leader is needed.

As they say, "No pain; no gain."

There are two kinds of leading.

The first kind of leading is by personal performance, knowledge and expertise as one of the gang, often referred to as "first among equals" after the Latin phrase, "primus inter pares."

The members of the group are equal in position, but one leads because of their knowledge, expertise or a position of authority.  Such as with a business partnership where one of the partners is the managing partner.

The second kind of leading is when you have a position of authority within an organizational structure.

It is the second one where the most discomfort comes in.

I was the scoutmaster for my sons' scout troop for eight years. I tried to run our troop as a "first among equals", until my lead assistant in charge of camping didn't like a decision I made about his son's advancement. Within five days, the situation went from a disagreement between us to a challenge of my authority as scoutmaster before the whole troop. It wasn't personal. It was the principle of the issue. However, when the line was crossed from being between us to involving all the families, I had to exercise the authority that comes with the position. In consultation with the troop committee, he was suspended from all future activities with the troop. It was a sad moment because it didn't have to go that far. The beneficial result was that it created confidence that the boys would be treated fairly and cared for appropriately. Confirmation of the difficult decision came as parents stepped forward, offering their support and help.

It was very uncomfortable experience and a great lesson in leading. To this day, five years later, I'm still affected by it. He was my friend and scouting partner. We hiked together. We were a great team together. And in a matter of a few days, it was over.

This is one of those issues that supervisors and middle managers are not taught to understand. They rise through the ranks of the company. Someone thinks that they have some leadership skills, and they are elevated into a manager position. The challenge for them is no longer being one of the guys. It is why leadership is an uncomfortable position to be in.

This is why leadership is not just tactics and strategies, but personal character and the capacity to change.

If you are in this position, here are three areas to focus your attention.

1. Be clear about the long-term impact you want to achieve.

2. Be clear about the values that govern your decisions and behavior.

3. Be clear that you can't take personally, the conflicts and disputes that come with authority, even if it is personal to the other person. You can't let it become about you, it isn't, but about principles and goals.

I encourage you to read Seth's NY Times bestseller book, Tribes, and to subscribe to his blog. I also encourage to read David's blog, especially right now as he chronicles his adventures in Bali.

31 Questions: conflict

23. How do leaders learn to handle interpersonal conflict?

Different kinds of relationships require different approaches.

What do you do as a leader when a peer in a parallel leadership role is in conflict with you?

For example, what do you do when that conflict becomes an issue on a leadership team.

How should you approach a conflict that ultimately could involve your boss?

What do you do when the conflict is with a direct report?

For example, when an assistant disagrees with a policy decision that has a direct impact upon her.  The decision is the right one, yet the assistant persists over a number of days to persuade the leader to change his position. The leader refuses, and the assistant decides to make her case to the rest of the office. In essence, she is not only challenging the leader's authority, but seeking to undermine his position. 

What would you do?

What do you do when the conflict is with your boss?

Each of these situations require a different approach.

What should a leader do resolved the conflict in each instance?

Is there a standard or a common value that should govern workplace interpersonal conflict?

Real Life Leadership: When a crisis hits your workplace, don’t panic — keep your cool and do your best

My latest Real Life Leadership column - When a crisis hits your workplace, don’t panic- keep your cool and do your best  - is online.

How do you know if you are in crisis?

1.  Lack of clarity about what the problem is.

2.  Most of the people are unaware, and if they were, they would not be happy with circumstances as they stand.

3.  Competing agendas between staff, executive and board.

4.  Political subterfuge.  People get set up to be identified as the reason for the conflict.

5.  Lack of leadership, or worse, leaders who are playing one group off another.

6.  Lack of clear policies, or worse, policies without accountability.

7.  Favoritism.

8.  Conflicts between the stated values of the organization, and what is actually going on.

9.  Fits of anger by leaders.

10.  Poor performance.

If you have a number of these dys-functioning in your organization, then you may well be in crisis.  If you can see some of these happening, and yet, no one is talking about them, you are in crisis.

In reality, the fault lines for crisis are simple to identify.

1.  Dysfunctional relationships.

2.  Poor performance.

3.  Unethical, or worse, illegal actions by the leadership.

4.  Policies and practices that don't make sense.

5.  Suspicion, mistrust and fear.

If this is happening where you are, then we need to talk.  There are ways to address crisis.  It begins with understanding what is actually happening.  And if you are not privy to the kind of information that can help you reach that clarity, then you need to re-read my column and follow my suggestions there.

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Real Life Leadership: Conflict Resolution

This week's Real Life Leadership column - It's our responsibility to solve problems - is online. Conflict resolution in organizations is a challenging, delicate business. What I've seen over the years is that the issues that are identified as the conflict, are often symptoms of a deeper problem or multiple problems. 

There are two symptoms that I frequently see. 
1.  Someone else is to blame. 
2.  Someone is responsible for the solution.

In reality, in most of these conflicts, blame and solution-finding responsibility is shared by all. 

How people react to a conflict is a behavior that is learned from childhood.  Unless they are conscious about their behavior and intentional in how they address that behavior, their reaction can be counter-productive. My psychological counselor colleagues tell me that my approach fits within is called family systems theory that associated with Dr. Murray Bowen.

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