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the (corporate) parent trap

If you are a child of the 1960's or 70's there is a good chance you've seen "The Parent Trap". Starring Hayley Mills and Maureen O'Hara this original motion picture was a tale of identical twins (Mills playing both roles) scheming to bring their divorced parents together once more. It's a charming story, well produced and acted, with the obligatory Disney 'happily ever after' finale.

Having recently re-watched this film it occurred to me that the title ("The Parent Trap") of this 1961 classic is a great fit for much of the interplay within corporate teams. Allow me to explain:

  • The Authority figure within the team (typically, but not always, the titular leader) will assume the role of Mum or Dad;

  • The Followers within the team (the 'workers' & the 'subordinates') will assume the role of the children;

  • One of these Follower-children will assume the role of the First Born - this is the child that Mum or Dad are willing to leave at home in charge of the other children. In the corporate world this person often has the title "Acting" in their email sign off!

  • The other Follower-children will assume a variety of roles within the team:

  • the Second born - this person spends their time either (a) mirroring the behaviour of the First Born or (b) complaining about the other Follower-children to Mum or Dad;

  • the Rebel - this person arrives late to meetings, prints everything in colour, shares passwords, deletes emails before reading and takes all the chocolate biscuits from the biscuit tin;

  • the Cousin - this is usually the newest member to the team (or a junior consultant). This person has a list of ways that everything can be done better - just like at their 'real' home (i.e. former workplace or last consulting gig);

  • the Middle Child - this is the child that keeps their head down, gets stuff done (or doesn't) - either way, it doesn't really matter - they seek and get very little attention;

  • the Youngest Child - this is the person who gets a lot of Mum or Dad's attention and can do no wrong - these are the people that can fail to do what they've been asked to do and still get a present!

So how do Mum and Dad (the Authority Figure / Leader) deal will all of this?

Here's the options -

(A) Refuse to assume the role of Mum or Dad! Don't allow the First Born to always take on the 'deputy' role; don't give in to the tattle-telling of the Second Born; call the behaviour of the Rebel or kick them out of the house; let the Cousin assume responsibility for implementing their ideas and watch them succeed or fail; spend more time with & focus on the Middle child; and stop rewarding the Youngest child for absolutely everything they do or don't do;


(B) Embrace the role of Mum or Dad and enjoy The (Corporate) Parent Trap!

#leadership #engagement

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