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Men's Health

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Dad's Impact on Your Career

Experts explain how a father's parenting style can have a long-term impact on the workplace.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

As yet, there's no such thing as "Take Your Dad to Work Day." But a psychologist maintains that most of us -- consciously or unconsciously -- bring our fathers into the workplace every day. Who's behind your need to (pick one): please the boss, find someone to blame, bark at subordinates, climb the ladder, or work harder than anyone else? Stephan B. Poulter, PhD, says it's Dad.

He spells it out in his book The Father Factor: How Your Father's Legacy Impacts Your Career. WebMD talked with Poulter, a former police officer who for 24 years has been a clinical psychologist specializing in family relationships, and two other experts about the influence fathers have on careers.

Understanding the Five Fathering Styles

Much is known about a mother's role in shaping offspring, but Poulter believes that fathers provide the model for workplace behavior. "Dad's rule book" -- the spoken and unspoken rules about work ethic, relationships, ethics, and money -- gets internalized. It may foster positive behaviors, such as a strong work ethic, but often sets up career roadblocks.

The legacy comes from the "father factor," or the type of fathering a son or daughter receives. While dads can exhibit a combination of styles, Poulter says one will dominate. He categorizes these styles as Superachiever, Time Bomb, Passive, Absent, and Compassionate/Mentor.

  • Superachiever. Looking good and winning is the mantra of the Superachiever, whose legacy is shame. Their children become their own toughest critics. They expend tremendous energy hiding weaknesses, can't share their insecurities with anyone, and feel they are phonies. Poulter has a five-step strategy for becoming a "balanced achiever," at the heart of which is a lot of self-nurturing.
  • Time Bomb. With a dad who explodes unpredictably, a kid learns that keeping Dad happy is goal No. 1. As an adult in the workplace, the child may be skilled at reading others' behavior but has difficulty dealing with conflict out of an insecure need to please. The first step in changing this behavior is to recognize the problem and change limiting thoughts, such as "If I'm not always nice, people won't like me."
  • Passive. More than 50% of baby boomers are products of passive fathering. Such dads act more as observers than participants in their families. Emotionally they neglect the children, who respond with self-neglect and ultimately depressiondepression. Two career roadblocks loom: lack of motivation and fear of failure. Gaining insight, taking charge, and changing the internalized father factor are keys to personal and career satisfaction.
  • Absent. When a father is physically or emotionally absent, it gets translated into rejection. "Kids are wired for both parents to love them," says Poulter, who describes his own father as emotionally distant. Poulter tells WebMD that absent fathers are the glue that holds juvenile gangs together, and he believes they're also responsible for widespread depression among Generation X. In the workplace, the child may have problems with authority figures, especially male bosses, and direct anger toward co-workers. Poulter offers action steps for healing the anger, which include recognizing that the absent father's legacy carries positive as well as negative influence.
  • Compassionate/Mentor. This is the poster dad for effective parentingparenting -- usually someone else's dad. He doesn't drag around resentments or unfulfilled dreams. Poulter lists 10 characteristics of the Compassionate/Mentor dad that less enlightened men can learn to emulate in the workplace. These include "allowing flexibility, forgiveness, and compassion to influence management style, co-worker relations, and client relations," and "reaching a balance of assertiveness between the extremes of aggression and passivity."

Poulter has a number of checklists and exercises for recognizing and moving beyond career roadblocks. "People think they can't go beyond their legacy, but the goal of this book is to get the adult to move in the direction they've always wanted in their career, life, finances, and relationships."

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