In my January 31, 2015 blog on narcissism I reported how I traveled back to my earliest memories and discovered an experience that shaped my behavior all my life.
That psychological exercise is a well-known psychotherapeutic technique for treating individuals. It, however, gave me an insight that maybe the technique applies to organizational therapy as well.
Here is how I arrived at the insight.
Last week I was advising a national leader. The President of a country. He was the founding father of that country and we were discussing the issue of succession.
I explained to him that from my experience with companies, it is very difficult to replace the founder of a corporation with a successor who can fit easily into the founder’s shoes. Founders of companies are unique and there is no way to clone them. The same applies to founding fathers of a nation, I said.
I have developed, I told him, a methodology to free founders of companies from this trap. They can build into the corporate behavior “a system” of management that reflects their values so that when they eventually leave the company, what stays behind is an institutionalized way of managing that the successor must continue to maintain. In this way “the spirit of the founder” remains, the enterprise is managed or governed (to use a nation-state term) as if he or she were still present.
This can be done on the state level too, I told him.
Attaturk did it in Turkey. So did Tito in Yugoslavia. It does not “remain alive” forever, because nothing is forever. But it does keep impacting behavior for a while and helps make the transition from a domineering Founder to a successor much less traumatic.
That is also what happens in a well-integrated family. The parents die. The children and grandchildren continue the family rituals and maintain the values established by the departing parents. So those values and rituals continue to guide behavior as if the parents were still alive. (For those versed in Adizes, PE is being replaced with AI).
I elaborated on what he could do in his country. It was then, as I continued to speak, that I suddenly realized I was describing the power at conception.
Something happens at conception that drives behavior whether of an individual, of a family, a company or a country.
Take the United States. Whenever we are uncertain about what to do, we go back to the Founding Fathers and ask ourselves what they intended and refer to what was written in the Constitution.
I also could recall family therapy sessions where the therapist asked me to describe how I courted my wife. He said that in his experience, how the courting went, so goes the marriage.
There is a common denominator here, I said to myself:
My experience as a baby affected how I behaved in life thereafter.
How I courted my wife affected how I treat her during our marriage.
How the Founding Fathers launched the United States has affected how we have developed and continue to develop as a nation.
There is a pattern here. There is something that happens at conception. To rephrase the Chinese, it is not only that the longest trip starts with a single step, but the direction that first step takes determines what the experience of the trip will be. What road you will travel.
Application for organizational therapy: we should ask clients to describe how the company was started. What was the value proposition at conception? Why and how was the company created? Was it to make a quick, big buck? A fast dollar and goodbye. Or did the founder want to change the world; or at least the industry? Or did the Founder(s) hate what was in the market and along the way fell in love with a product they wanted to put forward? In short, what was the impetus that determined the start-up of the company?
And so, which values, goals, and experiences at conception guide your behavior now subconsciously?
I believe we are not aware how these early experiences actually determine our future behavior.
By becoming conscious of what happened at conception, and by analyzing what helped us (and what gave us pain) in later life, we are exposed to a liberating experience.
And that can help us change.
So, I offer these introductory questions….
How was this nation started?
How did your relationship with your present spouse begin?
How did you launch your company?
Can you reach back to your earliest memory? What happened?
Can you identify how it has affected your life?
Ichak Kalderon Adizes