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Do you have to be dysfunctional to be leader?

04
Jan 2012

“If you are a fully functional, balanced, emotionally stable person, brought up by two well-adjusted parents then you would never be driven to go for some of the top roles in business today.”

So goes the argument of a friend of mine who is a Professor at a top business school. And I wonder does he have a good point?

There may be an element of truth in what he says, based on some of my own experiences.

I do come across highly driven leaders who have had quite a dysfunctional upbringing; with one or other of their parents being killed, or leaving them when very young. In one case a senior leader is still attempting to prove to his long dead father that he is good enough for his father’s approval. In another a female leader was desperately seeking for the love and approval of her highly critical mother from whom she never received the slightest praise for any of her considerable achievements and this pushes her on to achieve even more. Nothing was good enough for her mother and neither is it for this talented leader.

My friend’s argument goes that, “if an individual was fully balanced, with a happy childhood full of sufficiency, then they would not have that burning, obsessive desire and drive within them to push themselves ever onwards. Instead they would be contented, relaxed and quite happy with their lot”. They would find a job in which they were content, go to work and do a reasonable job, come home and spend time with their partner and their children. They might also spend more time socialising with family and friends. For them work would not be a major part of their life. They would work to live rather than live to work.”

To balance such an argument I must add that, despite the fact that personally I have been very driven by a slightly dysfunctional family upbringing (in which my father was killed when I was 3), I have many cases of fully functioning leaders with happy upbringings. In spite of this apparent “disdvantage” they are very driven to do an outstanding job and constantly strive to produce nothing but the best.

I’m interested to hear what your own experience have been and are as a leader. Was your upbringing a functional one, or a dysfunctional one and how has that shaped your drive for status, recognition, achievement and making a difference in the world?

Good luck inspiring leadership wherever you go.

Warm regards Jonathan

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