Individuals are unique not so much because of their biology but more so due to the way they Think and Act in different situations. We think in a certain manner as we are used to think in that way. And that way comes from how our mind has been scripted all through the years we have been influenced, controlled or motivated by a lot of people and experiences, all starting with our parents, teachers, family, friends, colleagues, social contacts and finally our managers. Dr. Eric Berne, the father of Transactional Analysis explained that we all receive stimulus or respond to the same from one of our three ego-states (Fig. 2). The Parent ego-state is about what we have been taught by our parents or other parental substitutes, while the Child ego-state is about what we have felt and registered during our childhood. The Adult ego-state however is about what we have learnt through our experience and validated through the rationale of having practiced in real time. The product of all that we were taught, felt and learnt is what rules our Habits of Thinking & Action (HaTaCs) that makes us manage – gainfully or painfully – whatever we have to.
It is our HaTaCs that form the basis of our psyche which responds or reacts to different stimuli from the environment. Although, we are made by myriad influences in our life as on date, I have taken up two primary influences here in order to be coherent to my fellow practicing managers. One is that we receive unknowingly since our birth largely due to our parenting luck and the other is what we receive both unknowingly and knowingly from our Managers as we embark on our careers. Our HaTaCs at any stage of our life are a product of Habits that begin to form as a result of same or similar repeat loops of external stimulus and reaction recorded in our minds. Fig. 1 depicts a ‘Habit Funnel’ – a funnel full of accumulated habits – that an individual develops since its birth till the last day of its life. The size of the Habit Funnel and its variety comes from the individual being challenged by new or different stimuli all along its life. People not exposed to new stimuli obviously do not develop any new habits and remain ‘frogs in their wells’. In India, we call them ‘Koopamanduks’, a verbatim one-worder for the English phrase.
If you think about a new born child, lucky or not to have a caring bosom to snuggle into, you can very well imagine that this child’s mind or ‘psyche’ is more like a virgin white board. It is yet to be blemished or influenced by anything or anyone other than the lack of warmth it would have registered as it came out of its secure anchorage in its mother’s womb. It gurgles in satisfaction the moment it is wrapped up in soft and warm clothing and held closely by a loving mother or a nurse. It feels it is back in a relatively familiar zone. It has absolutely no idea about this world of ours and what all it may have to encounter and manage once we go after it with all its fellow human created stimuli. Even nature that created it would come out of its sabbatical of nine months and challenge the child with less benevolence and inconsistency. It’s first HaTaC starts falling in place as the habit forming loop of being away and back to the nurturing bosom gets repeated over the next days and months.
Fig. 1 – The Habit Funnel of an Individual
I recall when our first born was given a sharp pat on his butt by the nurse at the hospital. He yelped out loud, probably more in shock than pain only to be comforted immediately as the nurse drew our son lovingly into the cosy warm nook between her arm and her body. While teaching a course on leadership and change management at the IIMB, I used to ask a question drawn from my above experience as a father.
Question: Consider a child who was not lucky enough to be comforted when shocked or hurt soon after its birth. It would probably cry for a long time and finally whimper into an exhausted silence. Now, if my son who had gurgled into a satisfied slumber after the first sharp pat on his butt and the unlucky child above were to be given the same sharp pat again and both were not offered any comforting touch, who will cry longer?
The answer from most, even those who were yet tasted parenthood, was always the same. My son with the beginnings of a HaTaC of being comforted whenever he cried would be the longer to complain as he had the expectation of being comforted, while the unlucky kid had already learnt that none may come its way. Both would go through innumerable such loops of stimuli, reaction and counter-reactions (new stimuli) to form their HaTaCs for years and years to come. Each one of them like every one of us would become known for their thus formed Habit Funnels. Our Choices & Behaviour – our Identity – would be entirely borne out of our Habit Funnels.
The debate is still on about the contribution of the genotype versus the environment. Psychogenetics has emerged as a specialised field among the scientific community that studies the impact of hereditary influence on social behaviour. Qualitatively, they have been able to establish that heredity and the environment interact to generate behaviour as the product, rather than the sum, of their respective contributions. The biological identity grows contributing to the Re-Actions by virtue of the environmental triggers to the Genes.
Parents lay the Foundation
Every manager was parented in a unique manner as each one of our parents was also an individual made as they were, by their unique trajectory of life till they became our parents. Most of us who are parents today have the experience to empathise with our own parents, if we choose to. We can understand, if we wish to, why they thought, believed, chose and practiced the way they did when we were little kids in their care. Their lives and the way they lived it does not have to be either right or wrong. It was the reality they lived. The values, the rituals, the beliefs, the fears and joys they harboured are what influenced our lives, our personalities, choices and individuality. Just like any of us, our parents did not receive any SOP or training to parent us in a certain manner. They learnt on the job (parenting) as most of us are still struggling to learn, through a mix of successes and failures. Their life was a sum of their life experiments, knowingly or unknowingly just as we are going through the same.
To quote from the chapter on ‘Evolution of a Leader’ from my earlier book, ‘Ascent: A Practising Manager’s Growth Mantra’:
‘From an innocent idea, the child evolves into a full blown individual personality of an adult man or woman, distinctly different from all others around.
He may become an expert in some domain or a generalist with multi-tasking skills. He may become a voluble extrovert or a studious introvert. He may be motivated by short term motivators or have the mind-set to hook onto larger or distant purposes. He may be a deceptive narcissist or spread development through constructive narcissism. He may be content with little or develop the intensity of relentless pursuit of self-esteem crutches. He may evolve into the ever-curious hunter of new knowledge, unsatiated by what he knows or become the passionate executor of correctness purely driven by the beauty of perfection. He may manifest the ghosts of irresponsible parenting as a reactive narcissist or be disillusioned early with inanimate or material challenges to immerse himself into social development. He may remain perennially occupied trying to fulfil other’s expectations or choose to lead a life beyond expectations.
Whichever way the individual evolves, the trajectory will be determined largely by the sculpting undergone during the initial years of managerial enculturation, while the psychological basis can usually be traced back to the edifice built under parental influence.’
It was our parenting that determined which school we went to and to a large extent what stream of education, music or sport we may believe we chose to specialise in. They gave us some leeway to try things out but yet decided with a tremble how much leeway to offer, in case things did not turn out as they wished it for our sake. At the end of the day, the doors they opened for us opened up vistas of possibilities that we made something of. They took risks that may appear astronomical in comparison to what today’s famed entrepreneurs are at times egged on to take. They took risks on their investments, their children not just on some mindless capital or business idea. We were the companies they founded without any post-dated dividend warrants or benefit of any ‘executive management’ programme in parenting. Yet, they were ecstatic with pride, happiness and wonder when they held us in their hands the first time. A bit similar to the freshly minted managers in their pink car after their return from Seychelles (Seychelles was too exotic for most of them in reality)!
Today, they wait for our calls or a selfie on the whatsapp to just know that we are doing well in our managerial lives. They are probably oblivious of how much of their HaTaCs still commands our choices, our sense of reverence and respect, our morals and beliefs – our value system. They smile benevolently at our complaints about our own children while reminiscent of similar anecdotes about us. They get worried when they see us deviating from their practiced value system and we conclude that they are just out of sync with the demands of the world we got to survive in. They marvel at our escapades with life and recount proudly to their friends about our great successes, at times with not so much confidence but out of sheer filial loyalty. At the same time we go farther and farther into the career tunnel realising a bit too late that we may have gone beyond the point of return. That is when we feel that we need them again if not for parenting us anymore but to share our parenting burden. It is only then that we realise that it was our parents and their parenting that gave us the Foundation on which we built our Individuality. We recall the first days of the first job in organisational life when we were stuck with the label – a Fresher. Fresh we were from our foundational influences as we were inducted into a functional domain of an enterprise.
We realise that it was our parent’s choices that contributed a lot for us to be accepted as Freshers, while it will be our choices hereafter that would make us anything beyond.
Managers sculpt the Individual
We treaded in temerity around the corridors when escorted to the Manager under whose care or charge we would spend our initial months or years learning the functional technology. We walked in brimming with our fresher’s aspirations and expectations. That is when we met our first Manager, knowing all that we did not, waxing and waning fluently about the functional domain we had walked into. We met for the first time a ‘specialist’ of the domain we would have to spend a large part of our professional career in. We were overwhelmed, in awe and respected the knowledge of our Manager. We listened in rapt attention as he or she explained the process, the technology, tools and systems that we would have to learn as well as use in order to add value over a period of time. Our manager was explicit about her expectations from us and the KPIs we had to meet in due course of time.
Within no time, our minds got immersed with all that we had to learn despite the best of education and all the hard work we had put in to land us a job. It was our Manager’s knowledge about the functional technology that made us accept with humility our label – a Fresher. Our organisational life was more like being in a boot camp as we soaked in unwittingly a lot from our manager’s behaviour, approach to situations and command over the functional domain. We picked up the beginnings of new HaTaCs as we subconsciously imbibed or rejected what we observed, were subjected to or heard about our Manager’s behaviour, choices and actions. The habits we picked up as we grew in our competence and capabilities were sculpted upon the foundational edifice we walked in with, as a fresher. We realised quite fast that the earning and learning rate would not be as fast as we may have imagined. For most of us, our parents were still waiting back at home or across a phone line to make us feel wanted and valued. In those initial days of organisational life, the hours spent at home or in the company of our parents were suddenly much more relaxed and caring than that at our jobs, since we were Freshers – fresh from our cared for days. We realised that we had no option but to learn new knowledge, new skills to survive and excel in a long journey one called a career or a profession. The faster we could learn all that our manager – a Functional Technologist (FT) – had mastered, the earlier we could succeed in our careers.
Our Managers became both a subject for emulation as well as an object for substitution.
Most managers leave behind their sculpting imprints without being cognizant of the tremendous influence they have over the HaTaCs of their charges. This influence becomes even more staying when they spend a longer time together and participate in what their subconscious would relate later as success or happiness. It is therefore important to remember as one develops under their managers that all the sculpting undergone would form the basis of your HaTaCs when you would wield your managerial influence over others for years to come.
Ask a freshly minted Manager, ‘What did you learn from your best bosses?’ and you will see how influential his manager has been in sculpting the individual you are interacting with. Way back in 2001, I was in a leadership session conducted by Dr. Nancy Badore, who founded the Ford Motor Company’s Executive Development Center and ran it for years. She had asked us, a bunch of forty year old managers the above question. We were amazed at how much we were about these managers we respected and learnt from. A few amongst us even shared their relief at how much they were not about those managers they had hated or rejected as influences. Our managers were all kinds of things to us; mentor, teacher, disciplinarian, idols or taskmasters. We liked some, respected a few, feared and even idolised or hated a few others as we slogged through the different chambers of learning and practice. We had also talked about a few with whom we developed a ‘parented’ relationship and either loved them or hated them depending upon our own parenting experiences.
Looking through the lens of Eric Berne’s work on transactions between people and its impact, we all retained a script in our minds. This script was about what we were taught by our managers (parental substitutes), what we felt when under their influence and also what we learnt subsequently through our own experiences. It all contributed to our HaTaCs and consequently, our choices and behaviour as managers, parents, individuals and professionals. The Script is a central part of Transactional analysis theory, best explained as decisions retained in our minds in our respective ego-states. These are decisions we made subconsciously or consciously in order to survive in the world we had to experience. These are decisions reinforced by our managers or parental figures early on in our lives. When challenged by change, we find it very difficult to change such decisions ensconced deep in our psychic vaults. However, Berne’s practice as a successful psychotherapist and his transactional analysis theory held that such decisions can be changed provided our script is brought into our awareness through a safe relationship.
Berne’s three ego-state model made human behaviour easier to decipher as he built his model around a transaction between two people who send out a transactional stimulus or a transactional response. Fig. 5 shows complimentary (fulfilled) or crossed (failed) transactions using the evolved version of Berne’s initial three ego-state model.
Fig. 2 – Transactional Analysis & Ego – States (evolved model)
A complimentary transaction is one where the response is as expected by the stimulus provider whereas a crossed transaction is one where the respondent responds from a different ego-state than what the stimulus giver expected from. Individuals who grow up as an ‘adapted Child’ find it quite easy to work for a ‘critical Parent’ kind of a boss as they carry the HaTaC of complimentary transactions between a CP and an AC. On the other hand, those growing up as a ‘free Child’ develop wonderfully under the charge of a ‘nurturing Parent’ type of a manager. For sure, those with the HaTaCs of an FC or a RC would not quite last long in a traditional command and control management environment.
The important point to be latched on to is that whether it is Berne’s Transactional Analysis or the Habit Funnel depicted in Fig. 4, our HaTaCs are developed over years starting with our foundational influences and later working under our managers. Once we are cognizant of this, we can easily face the fact that it is these HaTaCs that bestow us with a repository of behavioural patterns that we manifest when faced with different situations in our future journey as professional managers.
Few examples from the professional work domain:
- If our HaTaC built us into a planned perfectionist, we approach almost all situations in a planned manner to achieve perfection. If the context lacks enough information for planning, we may just wait till we have enough information to plan and achieve perfection.
- If our HaTaC has been more about risk taking, fashioning the future out of relative unknowns, we are attracted to such contexts and thrive on uncertainty and complexity.
- If our enjoyable or gainful experiences with our managers had been about making continuous improvements about existing processes, systems to improve efficiencies or productivity, we feel stressed when we are faced with contexts where we are not able to control the results as planned due to animate resources not entirely under our command.
- If our functional domain made us work with knowledge workers more rather than menial job workers, a successful experience may have sculpted our HaTaCs to practice more of participative working rather than bank on traditional command & control methodologies.
What we relished as successful (complimentary) or enjoyable experiences with our managers during our development journey make us seek more of the same (Caution: we may not always have the luxury). At the same time, we never forget the failed (crossed) or painful ones and try to find alternative experiences when faced with contexts, personalities or situations that remind us of the stress we went through (Caution: we may not have the choice always).
Is the power of HaTaCs and Scripts retained from our past trajectory so strong that we are nothing but mere pre-programmed robots?
Can we not chart our own decided way forward driven by something other than our psychogenetic influences?
Yes, we can!!!
…when we are driven by a passionate engagement with a distant purpose, a goal, an objective that we have chosen to fulfil as our Karma!
 Berne, Eric. Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy. Grove Press, Inc., New York, 1961
 HJ Eysenck (Edited) Experiments in Personality: Volume 1 (Psychology Revivals): Psychogenetics and psychopharmacology, pp. 1-102, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Originally published by Broadhurst, PL, (1960), Experiments in psychogenetics: applications of biometrical genetics to behaviour.
 Chatterjee, Amit, Ascent: A Practising Manager’s Growth Mantra, Random House India, New Delhi, 2014