So this post is going to be specifically written with the guys in mind. However, gals, you might find some of this insightful, maybe even helpful, in understanding what’s going on inside the heart of many men.
Guys, do you realize your career may be under the direct, yet unseen, influence of a hidden boss. You may be working diligently to earn his favor. You may even have ordered your life in an attempt to please him. Your entire career could be based on an attempt to elicit his praise. He may have influenced how much education or training you’ve gone through, where you live, or whom you’ve married. He may even be the reason you are still single.. His influence may have caused you to give up things that were at one time very dear to you.
I’ve seen his influence first hand in the lives of countless friends and colleagues. I’ve seen it cripple – even paralyze men. I’ve seen men lose families because of their desire to gain his approval. I’m talking about your dad.
A few years back I was working with a colleague who had spent his first 15 years out of school in the same industry that his father worked in. His father had just passed away and he was introspective and transparent when he confided in me that all those years ago his choice to pursue this profession was made in an attempt to get his dad’s approval. He told me “for fifteen years I did what I thought he wanted me to do in hopes that I’d get to hear from him that I had become something he was proud of. Now he is gone and I never heard it. I wish now I’d just done what I wanted to do. I never would have picked this path for my life if I knew that was never going to happen.”
I know this sounds like an extreme case. Maybe the guy had other emotional issues or maybe he just had a hard time connecting with people in general. No. I can tell you now, what was driving this guy to spend fifteen years in pursuit of approval from his dad is the same thing that goes on in the heart of every man.
The bizarre thing is that dads don’t even have to be particularly good dads for guys to want their approval. I worked with another guy a few years back, we’ll call him Brad. Brad’s dad had left him and his mom when Brad was four. Brad didn’t hear from him for five years and even then it was just an occasional call on a birthday or Christmas. But as I sat across the table from 35-year old Brad I realized that the great void in his life was that he lacked a stamp of approval as a man. And even though he knew his dad had bailed on him, he also recognized that his dad was supposed to be the source of that approval. After a little pep talk, Brad mustered up the courage to call his dad and tell him that he was coming to see him. Brad told him he wanted to ask him some questions and that they would be difficult questions. His dad tried to tell him it wasn’t a good time but Brad went anyway. And Brad asked him why he left and how he thought about him as a man. The conversation was terrible. And Brad didn’t leave with the approval he came for. But he did leave with closure. And he also left with a realization that even if his dad had given him the kindest and most encouraging words they wouldn’t have helped. He finally saw the ghost he had been chasing.
But the amazing thing was what happened to Brad when he returned home. It was like Brad had been unchained. He was free. And as a CEO he began making business and leadership decisions that he never would have attempted before. He began to allow himself to risk a few things. He also decided to find a better balance between work and home life. It wasn’t until after his talk with his dad that he realized the unhealthy balance between work and home and realized it was at least partially skewed because of how hard he was working to get his dad’s approval.
I shared Brad’s story with Jim several weeks later. Jim was so intrigued that he went and asked his dad what he thought of him the very next day. It wasn’t that he had a bad relationship with his dad at all, but like so many guys he just had an emotionally distant connection with his father. Jim’s dad, after being struck by the nature of his query, went on to tell him how proud he was of him and how much he admired him. The very next day Jim went and applied for a job that he would never have dreamed he was qualified for. After he secured the new job he shared, “when you told me about Brad I knew I had never gotten that kind of approval from my dad. But when dad told me he was proud of me, I felt like I could take on anything in the world. I’m a grown man but I felt like I was finally ready to go start my life.”
In part 2, I’ll tell you about my own journey with my dad and how it impacted me as a person and a leader and give you some tips that might help you get the stamp of approval from your father.