Leaders Create Work Families

People come to work primed to view their experience on the job through the perspective of family relationships. They look at their leaders and see their parents. You can ignore this basic human response or you can find ways to make use of it for the good of the organization, maybe by trying a little organizational ju-jitsu.

Most people have a strong drive for attachment and security; being part of a family is as good as it gets. Leaders create a family-like atmosphere by pulling people together and encouraging a sense of belonging. They build teams where everyone can contribute their unique strength to further the goals of the company.

From my experience building teams facilitates people feeling more connected to each other. As people become more and more committed to their work family, they begin to share a common sense of purpose—and that’s a very powerful driver of performance. People feel free to act more independently when the team is functioning as a family. It’s not like they go off on their own or anything; they are just more willing to step up on their own initiative and help achieve team goals. This is the autonomous functioning that you want from your employees.

Leaders make it a point to treat everyone fairly, honestly, and with respect. They set the tone for the family. This helps minimize sibling rivalry, er, I mean employee competition.

Great leaders also require that there be expectations. These expectations are developed jointly by the team and individuals. Everyone buys into the notion that they have important work to accomplish. And, like good parents, leaders encourage the growth of their team members. They want team members to mature and eventually join and replace them as leaders.

I am using the term work family to distinguish it from the biological family. Leaders create a family-like atmosphere in the work environment, while simultaneously helping everyone keep their eye on performance and the need to achieve organizational goals. That’s the ju-jitsu part. Leaders are not parents and work teams are not families.

The leadership implication of our third principle, that people working together tend to replicate family structures and dynamics, is that leaders create a family-like atmosphere in the workplace.

Tom DeMaio, PhD


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