The New Manager and the P-A-C

It may sound nerdy but I love models and applying them wherever I can. They give me a structure to make sense of a situation and pursue a solution. I do not have to reinvent the wheel. Someone has already thought through similar situations and may have prescribed what to do. It is if I am standing clueless in a totally alien land and suddenly been handed a guide-book with a map. I still have to find the way but it is much easier. A model will make me think more, skip less and act effectively. The key is to apply the correct model and be open to tweaking it. If I am starting a new team, devising strategy for a chess game, making a decision to switch jobs, evaluating how to budget the next quarter or to manage my investments, I look for a model that I can apply. This is what the organizations do. This is definitely what the researchers do. We build on what we already know and formulated rather than starting from scratch (and repeating the mistakes). 

Hence, whenever I am reading a book, attending a training or talking to someone who knows more than me, I am always on the lookout for a new model or a tool. I try to extract from all the details, anecdotes and discussions the underlying models and tools and add them to my armory.

Image“I’m OK-You’re OK” by Thomas Harris is a great self-help book that makes people understand themselves and how they function. It helps them living a better life by immensely improving their personal and business communications. It’s a bit dense but classic read. My best takeaway from the book was the “P-A-C model” which is the basis for the overall framework that Thomas offers. P-A-C stands for Parent-Adult-Child (always start from Caps). 

Thomas says that we have three persons inside us – a Parent, a Child and an Adult. At any instant when we are thinking or communicating, it is one of these three that is in control. Ability to identify – and change – which of these three is in control of us at any instant is the key to understanding and improving ourselves.

The Parent represents what we have learned from our parents in our childhood. It is a repository of all the dos, donts, rules, constraints, admonitions and expectations of acceptable behaviors from our parents and teachers. These are sometimes helpful – “Never talk loud in front of adults”, “Always say Thank you”, “Be careful when you cross the road”, “All people are equal”. At other times they introduce prejudices and stereotypes. “Do not play with children from the other neighborhood”, “Never talk to strangers”, “People in the western part of city are not nice”, “Always mingle with children of your own type”, “Elders can never be wrong”. All these get embedded in Parent without any rationale or logic. They are simple fiats and rules that have to be followed. Every time a child quotes his mom or dad to justify something, its her Parent talking. 

The Child represents the emotional responses and feelings that we experienced in our childhood in response to event. For example, a scare from a fiery dog can result in fear embedded in the Child as an emotion on seeing a dog. Or a child may have liked her uncle in a military outfit and this may store passion or awe for military. An ugly experience with a divorce in a house may store apathy for any relationship. Similar to Parent, there is no rationale or logic for what goes into the Child. These are just recordings of emotions and feelings in response to various stimuli. 

Here is the scary part: the Parent and the Child control our behavior by default. We are on autopilot with they in control unless we make an explicit effort to regain the control – which means giving it to the Adult. The Adult represents the logical, analytical, objective and evaluative being inside us. It does not take anything for granted – there are no recordings in the Adult. It is not a replacement of Parent or Child. It does see what is stored in them but questions whether that is the right way. Adult is a judge, arbiter, the cool-headed wise guy who works on logic rather than emotion. An Adult reacting to a situation is a conscious analysis. A Parent or Child reacting is like a subconscious response. Adult is analytical. Parent and Child are impulsive. Adult looks for the best way to handle the current situation. Parent and Child enforce the status quo. A woman who had fear embedded in her Child because she as a kid got scared of a puppy will still react with fear even if she sees a dog today. Her Child controls her behavior – until she makes an explicit effort for her Adult to come forward and rubbish her Child. Waiting for a few seconds before reacting to an explosive situation is giving time for your Adult to take over and stop the emotional impulsive reaction of the Child. That is why in some countries you get possession of a gun you purchase after 24 hours. 

The Parent and Child are not necessarily bad. Rather they are the only way a child can survive and function. However, they can become disruptive when they are the only means of behavior in adults. 

Here is an even scarier part: you will very likely always be governed by the Parent and the Child and that is how most people go through their lives. Its like “you never grow up”. The way to a better life – to get to a “I’m OK-You’re OK” state – is to have your Adult be at the forefront of your communications (external) and thoughts (internal). You do not have to discard the Parent and the Child – they have some very useful stuff stored in there. You just have to make them subservient to your rational Adult. You have to turn-off the autopilot of Parent and Child and have the Adult take over you manually. Initially this requires practice until it becomes your new autopilot mode. 

OK, all very interesting – but why am I telling you this? 

Remember, I said I like to apply models. So I applied P-A-C to how managers in knowledge organizations get developed. The initial years of a newly promoted manager is like a kid’s childhood. A newbie manager, talented but lacking experience and generally any grooming and guidance, needs help from others – just like a child needs help from his parents and teachers. The Parent and Child of the manager starts developing. The Parent gets deposited with the senior manager or executive’s style and mentoring. Some of it can be helpful: “You should get to know your reports better”, “You cannot grow as a manager unless you grow your people”, “Do regular One-on-Ones’ with your reports”, “Relationships and influences work better than role power”, “Talk but listen more”, “Delegate anything that can be delegated”. But then there can be stuff that is not so good: “You should never trust the marketing folks”, “Never entrust your team with important things”, “Only hire people like you”, “A manager always has to be stern and forceful”, “Persuasion is for the weak. You should just command”, “Managers always have to multi-task”. 

Similarly, the manager’s Child starts developing with the emotions and feelings he associates with various events in his early managerial career. A senior executives diatribe in response to the manager’s question in public makes him fearful of asking any questions in public. Chaos and stress experienced during a product rollout makes him nervous about them – even if the future rollouts are much easier. A bully executive the manager has to work with in his first major project makes him dislike all executives. Getting a great and dependable team to work with early makes the manager always assume a positive lookout for future teams. 

Just like for a child, there is nothing wrong with it. A manager has to stock up his Parent and Child in order to know what to do. He is like a kid who needs his parents to tell him what is right and wrong, what to do and what not to do.

However, as the manager “grows up”, he needs to make his Adult become proactive and start questioning his managerial Parent and Child. He has to function using reason and analysis rather than by impulse. He has to correct himself anytime he says “this is how things have always been done around here”. What is in his Parent and Child may be too restrictive and specific and possibly wrong and impeding. His Adult has to become the primary controller. The Parent and Child need to serve the Adult, not keep him in the closet. In order for a manager to be called “grown-up”, he has to have a fully functional Adult making his choices and decisions. 


15 thoughts on “The New Manager and the P-A-C

  1. vow, ather. indeed a brilliant use of PAC model for improving managerial behaviour. this is essentially original and even THOMAS hARRIS AND ERIC bERNE WOULD BE PROUD OF THE WAY THAT YOU HAVE EXTRAPOLATED THEIR THEMES TO USE THEM IN A NEW MANAGER’S REAL WORLD.
    please follow up on it.
    professor mowadat rana
    psychiatrist and psychotherapist

  2. This is thoughtful use of great insights…this could very well lead to the kind of stuff “true” managers are made of! I have really enjoyed reading this even though I am no corporate manager which proves that it is applicable to every day life- managerial or not. Keep it up!

  3. Very nicely written, thanks.

    I think the key takeaway is to keep your emotions out of your decisions. As both Parent and Child are highly emotional characters, an adult (without involving emotions) can make a better decision using analysis and logic.

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