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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

Generational Curses

Watching an interesting documentary the other day about poverty, I was reminded of the idea of generational curses. A generational curse, in its broadest sense, is a repeating pattern of misfortune or difficulty which affects a family; first affecting the parents, then their children, then their children and so on and so on. These are passed down until someone in the line is able to break or heal the curse and the family is set free.

In the documentary, the idea was of generational poverty; the parents were poor, brought kids into the world who were poor, who brought their own kids into the world, who were poor and the cycle continued over and over again. But generational curses appear in religion too. In the Bible, they were brought on a family by the sins of the father. Exodus 20:5 states that "The iniquities of the fathers are visited upon the sons and daughters — unto the third and fourth generation". Adam and Eve's wrongdoing in the garden of Eden, led to the curse being handed down to all mankind and inflicted indefinitely. In Greek mythology, the Gods would place sins on entire families, so that the impact was passed from generation to generation. The idea is as old as humans themselves.

I've seen generational curses play out in different ways in the realm of leadership. At a CIPD event this week, we spoke in a breakout group about authentic leadership and the support that's needed to ensure that leaders can be authentic. One barrier to this is the culture of the organisation, where it's not uncommon that leadership practices are passed down from leader to subordinate. Bad leaders are bad role models and this role modelling can create the next generation of leader who apes the negative traits of their boss. Some people, particularly those who have a hero-worship of their boss or who have had limited experience of different leadership and management styles, can be especially susceptible to generating this type of generational curse.

In sport, I've seen the same. When players become coaches or managers, they often do so in the style of the coaches and managers that they experienced. Shouty managers often breed more shouty managers. Sweary coaches often breed more sweary coaches. Coaches who try to be everyone's friends often breed coaches who try to be everyone's friends. And so the performance of the team, even years after a coach or manager leaves, can be influenced by the patterns they set in motion.

The challenge is that the idea of a generational curse can suggest a powerlessness to break it, which is a dangerous mindset to hold when you're faced with a curse of your own. Things can change. Even generational poverty can change. It's not easy, nor is it quick, but if the will is there and the commitment is there and the tenacity is there, it's possible to break the curses that have fallen upon you and make a new start with bigger and brighter things ahead.

When it comes to how you lead, here are a few steps that you might find useful:

  1. Reflect. Don't just act; think! Think about the type of leader that you want to be. Think of the type of leader that your organisation needs. Think of the impact that you want to have. Look at how you're showing up right now and he honest with yourself about the gaps.

  2. Gather feedback. It's one thing to think you know how others experience you as a leader - it's another entirely to ask them and find out. Gather it widely and, where possible, give the option for it to be anonymous so that people aren't afraid to be honest. Ask those who you get on well with, as well as those you don't!

  3. Change. Do something different. Be bold and brave. Bring things into your leadership that help you excel in other parts of your life and see how they land. And talk about the journey you're on, even with those you lead. Especially with those you lead. Let them know that you're on a journey and you need their help.

By taking these steps, being honest with yourself and being consistent, as well as revisiting reflection and feedback regularly in order to calibrate your direction of travel, you'll be amazed at where you can get to. Give the people that you lead, the type of leadership that brings the best from them and helps them to thrive by breaking the generational curse!

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