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The Influence of Our First Bosses

By Elaine Cercado

A few weekends ago, I attended a retreat where one of my takeaways was the importance of the family of origin. Family of origin refers to the significant caretakers and siblings that a person grows up with, or the first social group a person belongs to, which is often a person’s family. The speaker highlighted that if we are aware of, and we understand and appreciate the family of origin of one another, relationships can be smoother and more enjoyable.

This reminded me of the importance of our “management of origin” – taking off from the term family of origin. I’m referring to our first bosses, managers or leaders. Most of us were thrown into management and leadership roles without formal training and development. Most of us learned from our first bosses, and unconsciously or consciously, we took up the approach and style of the managers and leaders we experienced and grew up with.

Reflecting on my first few years as a young people manager reminded me of how much I didn’t know how to be a manager and leader then. As the 4 stages of competence model implies “we get promoted to our level of incompetence.” (1).

Indeed, those who get promoted from an individual contributor role to a manager usually move to the quadrant of conscious incompetence, where the individual does not understand or know how to do something, and the person recognizes the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.

We go through the 4 learning stages in an unending cycle as we continue to learn, develop and progress throughout our careers and lives. For instance, when I worked in a mid-sized distributor, I learned to do it all due to limited resources, and non-existent systems and processes. I was accountable for my own learning and development. To thrive, I became flexible, efficient and resourceful. My bosses, peers, customers, company culture and practices became my on-the-job teachers. When I got promoted to manage a sales team of 3, I expected the same level of performance and progression from my team members, rightfully or not.

When I got into management positions in a MNC, my very experienced regional bosses impacted and shaped much of how I managed and led my own teams. I learned how to appreciate and leverage diversity, how to build relationships at all levels in a matrix organization, and how to engage and develop my team. As digital technologies and mobile devices were not commonly used then, communicating with teams was done mostly through face-to-face interactions. To this date, I believe, those were my best learning courses in the real-world school of inter-personal communication!

All these reflections brought me to the importance and lasting influence of our first bosses, leaders and managers. I offer 2 key areas where management of origin may impact their team members most.

COACHING. The coaching manager guides and supports team members to discover their potentials, and achieve their goals and aspirations. It’s an ego-less and tailored-to- the-individual approach, where coaching is based on the agenda of the team member, not the manager’s. This entails pure listening!

I’ve found my manager’s coaching by literally journeying with me effective. When I was in Sales, I had a boss who would shadow my sales calls, and then right after the meetings would ask questions like: What would you have done differently? How would you have answered the objection if you had more time? or What other possible options can you think of? Those were the most effective coachable “aha” moments – moments when I felt challenged, learned most, and had shifts in my thoughts and behaviors!

TAKING RISK. The manager who takes risks on their team members builds trust, loyalty and lasting relationships. Overcoming day-to-day struggles and major work challenges together develops the bond and relationship deeper.

Leaders who take risk and leverage their power to influence or decide are the ones who change the business and organization, as well as, the careers and lives of their team members. I know this because I’ve had managers who took big risks and decisions that changed the business, organization and my personal path.

I had a manager who assigned me to Indonesia though I didn’t have any international market experience. Another promoted me and relocated our family to Malaysia, amidst challenges to make that happen. A leader recruited me to head a bigger business unit, which catered to a complex healthcare industry I didn’t know. They took risks on me. They were courageous and inspiring leaders – the type of leaders and managers we strongly want to work with and aspire to become.

From a business perspective, developing the right management and leadership team, values, culture and practices are at a critically important level. CEB research mentioned that one-third of star employees feel disengaged from their employers and are already looking for new jobs. It also mentioned that leadership development is beyond formal learning, and is driven 93% by manager coaching. (2)

From an employee perspective, it’s important to research, ask questions, observe and discern the leadership and management values, culture and practices of the organization. Daniel Goleman calls this developing organizational awareness (3), and I believe this was and will always be very important to the success of organizations and individuals.

Back to the weekend retreat master – he went on to say that when we marry and have our own family, we can always make a conscious decision to build our own unique family of origin, where the spouses take the desirable values and habits from their respective families of origin. The first step is awareness, then a decision, commitment and action. The same could be applied to management of origin. By being aware, reflecting, assessing and talking it out, managers and leaders can make intentional decisions, commitments and actions that can positively change the career and life paths of their team members, organizations and businesses.



(2) Research by CEB: Developing Senior Leaders Who Build the Next Generation of Talent


Elaine Cercado, a licensed facilitator of the Coaching Clinic workshop by Corporate Coach U (USA), can facilitate the Coaching Clinic for your organization. Email us at [email protected] to inquire.