Keith E Rice's Integrated SocioPsychology Blog & Pages

Aligning, integrating and applying the behavioural sciences

‘James’ & ‘Alan’

Updated: September 2005

I had been supplying business development consultancy and management development training to ‘Larsago Ltd’, a small engineering company, for a little over a year.

The business was family-owned and run, with father ‘Dan’ making all the decisions and mother ‘Emma’ doing the accounts and making the mid-morning toast. Both their sons, ‘James’ and ‘Alan’, worked in the business which also employed another 9 people. The business was growing and clearly had potential for further growth. Part of the business strategy was to develop a middle management structure. Since Dan and Emma wanted their sons to take over the business eventually, James and Alan had to be part of the little group I was putting through management training.

One evening, after all the machines had been turned off and everyone else had gone home, Dan asked me how I thought his sons were doing in terms of management development. I responded by asking Dan the question: “What if they’re not the right material to run the business?” Dan, being a bluff Yorkshireman, replied: “You fucking cunt!”

For all that he was highly innovative in many ways and open to much new thinking, in other ways Dan was pure Yorkshire tradition. It was inconceivable to him that his sons should not take over Lasargo. His response to my implication that they might not be suitable for that ambition was to order one-to-one coaching for them in addition to the group management training.

In addition to the RED vMEME being high in his vMEME stack, Dan’s impulsiveness and compulsiveness reflected him being high in the Psychociticism Dimension of Temperament – making hims a prickly character to deal with at times. These factors also made him a ruthlessly-determined leader.

James: developing self-esteem
In his father’s eyes, James lacked confidence, decisiveness and assertiveness – traits clearly necessary for his job as a section supervisor. It seemed James’ RED vMEME was not functioning well.

Dan had worked long, long hours establishing Larsago while James was growing up. Thus, the 2 had not seen much of each other in those critical years and, consequently, had not become close. By contrast Alan, the younger brother (by several years), had been virtually raised in the business and was the proverbial ‘apple of his father’s eye’.

Unsurprisingly then, James was had more of an attachment to his mother while Alan tended to favour his father.

Initially James had refused to come into the family business, preferring to fight his way through a series of manual and semi-skilled jobs with other companies. Clearly James’ PURPLE was damaged by the absence of his father during his childhood.

When James’ girlfriend became pregnant and they decided to get married, Emma prevailed upon him to join Larsago.

James was given the position of section supervisor. Placed in a responsible position with no prior experience and little training, James struggled to meet his father’s expectations. Shortly afterwards Alan, who had just left school, was also made a section supervisor.

Both James and Alan perceived that Dan favoured Alan, telling anyone who would listen what an excellent job the young man was doing as a section supervisor. Not altogether suprisingly, Alan rapidly became rather cocky and began to treat many of the Larsago workforce – including James – rather high-handedly. Fuelled by Dan’s undiscerning endorsements, Alan’s RED was running rampant. Many on the shopfloor were a lot less impressed with Alan’s management skills than Dan was. Some began to ridicule him behind his back, egged on at times by James who often referred to Alan as “Dan 2”.

Relations between the two brothers – never that close – deteriorated rapidly, culminating in James, by far the bigger of the two, throwing Alan against a wall one day and threatening to do him serious harm.

Early in his first coaching session with me, James said he couldn’t see why Dan had suggested the coaching sessions since he believed his father believed he was “thick” and “useless”.

I asked James for evidence that this was what Dan believed about him. James responded by telling me how, only a few days before, he had gone into his father’s office with some ideas on how to improve the work processes in his section and Dan had sent him out again, bellowing, “Fuck off!”

I used L Michael Hall’s (1995) Meta-States model to show James how people build interpretations of events through their values and their existing beliefs (schemas), and then interpret the interpretations, and then interpret the interpretations of the interpretations of the interpretations, etc, etc, all the time adding meaning not necessarily connected to the original event. As understanding dawned, it was like watching the proverbial pennies fall from James’ eyes. Dan’s elder son began to realise how he had built up unhealthy and limiting beliefs (maladaptive schemas) about himself right throughout his life. “When my Dad told me to fuck off, it didn’t have to mean he thought my idea would be useless,” James deducted. “It could just have been he was busy, stressed, under pressure – his reaction might have had nothing to do with me.”

I took James to Dan’s office to discuss the event. With me present, Dan was obliged to be courteous to his older son. Dan confirmed James’ new understanding; on that occasion he had, in fact, just been discussing delivery deadline problems with an uncompromising customer.

At my prompting James brought up several similar incidents – all of which Dan explained as him reacting to things nothing to do with James. The conversation was a cathartic experience for them both. James realised how much his meta-stating had misinterpreted and reinforced unhealthy perceptions about himself. Dan could not not hide his shock as he began to realise how much his insensitivity had contributed to James’ negative self-image.

I pointed out to James that his father couldn’t possible regard him as “thick” and “useless” – otherwise there would be no point in investing in the training and the coaching. Dan confirmed this; and, from that point on, I was able to nurture James’ self-esteem as his RED began to assert itself more.

He started implementing many lower level ideas for improving his section’s performance without consulting his father first. 3 months later Dan publicly acknowledged how much James had changed and how much his section had improved.

Alan: Developing Self-Awareness
In some ways Alan deserved the ‘Dan 2’ monicker. When I discussed with Emma how similar the meta-programme profiles of her husband and her younger son were, she confirmed the reading of each preference as accurate. They processed incoming information in a similar way, made decisions in a similar way and communicated in a similar way. No wonder Dan saw Alan as “a chip off the old block”!

The workforce tended to put up with Dan’s insensitive arrogance. Several of them were old friends who had been recruited by Dan in the very early stages of Lesargo’s development. (On the Adizes LifeCycle, it is typical of the Founder in the organisation’s Infancy stage to recruit family and friends, rather than more qualified strangers, because they are known quantities and more able to be trusted on a personal level.) So Dan was like a tribal leader to them. While he often treated them in rather a brusque fashion, they accepted his decisions and his strategic wisdom in guiding the company. That Lasargo was doing so well only reinforced their PURPLE loyalty to him.

Alan’s brashness, however, was seen as exactly that. He was operating as a RED/blue zealot and trying to use Lesargo’s embryonic ISO 9000 system to establish a my-rules-for-everyone regime. Resistance to him was almost right through the company. His reaction to resistance was to become even more authoritarian in manner.

A festering sore in Lesargo was the simmering conflict between Alan and James. To resolve this, I decided to use Robert Dilts’ Meta-Mirror exercise (1990). With James already realising the effects of meta-stating, he was more than willing to participate. It was more difficult to get Alan involved in what seemed to him quite an oddball activity. I had to call on Dan’s authority to get James to participate.

However, once he saw how his behaviour looked to James and then how their conflict looked to others, he was deeply affected and visibly quite shocked. From there, I taught him to take the Meta-Mirror second perceptual position whenever he found himself in a dispute with somebody – so he could see how his behaviour looked to others. It did nothing to lessen his assertiveness, but he did start doing much more to persuade people rather than simply trying to bully them.

As to Alan’s relationship with James, the two brothers started going to the gym together and having a pint afterwards, repairing some of their damaged sibling PURPLE.