Transactional Analysis and Leadership

At the core of the theory of Transactional Analysis (TA) is the belief that from early childhood we develop the ego-states of Parent, Adult and Child. All three ego-states (and their sub-categories) are present within us during our lives and will feature to a greater or lesser extent depending on how we interact and socialize with others. The ego-states display themselves in our attitudes, emotions and in our language. When we are being supportive we may use the language of the Nurturing Parent: “Let me help you”. When we are in control we may use the language of the Critical Parent “I need you to do this”. When we are rational, aware and free to choose we will tend to use Adult language: “So, here’s the challenge, what are our options here?”. And, when we are feeling insecure or perhaps playful or rebellious, we may use Childlike language: “Please give me some heIp”; “I’ve just had a great idea” or “Who are you to tell me what to do?”.

It is worth noting that when we refer to the use of certain styles of language, this might be either private (our “inner voice”) or public (expressed in our interactions with others). In some circumstances, the inner voice and the expressed communications are unaligned … i.e. we are playing a role that is unauthentic to our natural self. This may be functional or dysfunctional.

None of the ego-states (Parent, Adult or Child) are good or bad and all have a role to play in building and maintaining effective relationships with others. Sometimes, we need to take the lead and enforce standards (Critical Parent); sometimes support others in difficulty (Nurturing Parent); sometimes be intuitive and pick up the unexpressed words and/or emotions of others (Primitive Adult); sometimes be logical, fact-based and self-aware (Rational Adult); sometimes openly express our vulnerability or joy (Free Child); sometimes break some rules (Rebellious Child); sometimes ‘please’ others (Adapted Child).

Though none of the ego states are intrinsically good or bad, each might present problems if overused or inappropriately applied. For example, if overused, the Critical Parenting ego-state might result in becoming over-bearing or domineering; the Nurturing Parent might become stifling or disabling; the Primitive Adult might suffer paralysis through analysis; the Rational Adult might result in emotional detachment or a lack of imagination; the Free Child might lead to narcism or unrealistic optimism; the Rebellious Child might result in aggression or sabotage; and the Adapted Child might lead to dependency or exploitation.

We use these ego-states in a dynamic way, as we interact and are influenced by others. If a manager uses a Parenting style, it is likely to trigger either a Childlike response from a staff member or a confrontational riposte from a peer. If, however, an Adult style is adopted, it is more likely to trigger a “parallel” Adult response.

It is the implications of TA in group dynamics and in human development that make the subject such an important one for organizational leaders.

The crucial point is firstly to recognize our own ego-states. Here are some questions that may help in your personal explorations:

  • What ego-state predominates in your personal thoughts and interactions with people?
  • What triggers a change of state in you as a leader?
  • How are you different with certain people?
  • What particular situations lead to a shift in your mind-set and/or behaviour?
  • What are the implications of these patterns on your success as a leader?
  • What can you do to improve the leadership you provide to your team?

Next, you might consider what’s going on in your team. What language do you hear? Are you hearing the language of Adults who are problem-solving and making confident and functional decisions? Maybe you are hearing the language of Children who are trying to please at all costs (Adapted Child), or fighting against every attempt at change or improvement (Rebellious Child). Or maybe you are hearing Critical Parents who are blaming others for the ills of the operations.

Next, think about your work culture. Is your organization kept in check by a powerful directive leader (Critical Parent)? Is it ‘looked after’ by caring and supportive leader (Nurturing Parent)? Is it continuously developing and improving through a leader that empowers (combined Primitive and Rational Adult leader)? Is it allowed to run like a country-club (Free Child leader)? Is it overly influenced by a leader who is in conflict with external forces (Rebellious Child leader)?

Here are some further questions that may help in your explorations:

  • What is the impact of the organizational leader’s style on the way work gets done?
  • What behaviours are encouraged/discouraged by the organization’s over-riding culture?
  • What can you do to most effectively work within the organization?

An awareness of TA ego-states can make us become better leaders by increasing our awareness of the hidden “scripts” that shape our mind-sets and behaviours. A presumption underling TA theory and practice is that increasing the amount of Adult-to-Adult interactions we have accelerates the growth and development of ALL individuals involved in the interaction.

Adult-to-Adult conversations are indicated by four main competencies:

  1. The readiness to listen to others in order to build awareness;
  1. The use of questioning to generate options and choices;
  1. The exchange of frank and open feedback to build mutual understanding;
  1. Taking ownership for decisions and outcomes.

If you’ve found this article interesting, here are some of the other places that I make resources available:

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An Essential Guide to SWOT Analysis

I’ve just been contacted by Jackson Hille who, in collaboration with his colleague Justine Gomer from The University of California, Berkley, has produced ‘An Essential Guide to SWOT Analysis’.

I endorse their view that the guide is more thorough, up to date, and user friendly than any other existing SWOT Analysis guide. In the guide, there are SWOT and TOWS templates for readers to immediately put our analysis and their ideas into action, and there are also SWOT Analysis examples for every sector of the economy, including one of Uber and DreamWorks.

The guide can be found at …

Management, Leadership and Organization Development iOS App: The Knowledge!

If you have found the management, leadership and/or organization development content of this blog useful, you may be interested in Carl’s iOS App, ‘The Knowledge: Management and Leadership from A to Z’.

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The Introduction offers guidance on how you can develop yourself as an effective learner and provides tips on how to get the most from your use of the App.

Zen and the Art of Cathedral Building’ is the story of the building of the Sagrada Familia, or Gaudi Cathedral, in Barcelona. This story, which is part truth, part fiction, offers you a chance to think about management and leadership from a range of different perspectives. You can zoom in on the operational details or take the long view of the strategic content depending on your interests or current needs. You can then explore your own management and leadership challenges through the A to Z sections of the App, which link explicitly with the opening story.

An A to Z of Management and Leadership’ contains a range of models which I have selected for their value in meeting the challenges of modern management and leadership. These models are:

  • Described in brief to promote uncluttered learning
  • Related to the opening story to promote deeper understanding
  • The foundation for 26 exercises to promote individual, team and organization development.

The three ‘Questionnaires’ provide the opportunity for you to reflect in detail on your preferred learning style, leadership style and emotional intelligence.

In summary, The Knowledge resources will:

  • Make a range of management, leadership and organization development models accessible and memorable
  • Help you explore your attitudes and behaviours at work from a range of different perspectives
  • Illustrate that many of the problems within your organizational life are neither new nor unique
  • Enhance the creativity you are all able to apply to your management and leadership role.

The App is priced at £3.99 / $5.99

For more information and additional resources please visit my website:

Or the direct link to App Store is

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …

A Manager’s Guide to Dealing with Change

All people and organizations have to deal with change. Change in markets, technology, competition, relationships, life styles, divorce to name but a few. We all have to accept change and learn to manage it effectively. Organizational change tests leadership qualities to the full.

Once the need for change has been identified, we will be faced with the prospect of implementing the change either personally or within our businesses. Sticking to the following three steps will ensure that the implementation is as trouble free as possible.

Step 1 – Analyze the gap

It is all very well identifying the right changes, but implementing them can appear to be a formidable task. List the main differences between where you are now and where you intend to be. This list is essential in the effective management of change. Without this information there will be two potential challenges that may hijack your intentions and efforts.

The first challenge is likely to come from staff who may feel their needs are not being taken into account. If they feel no one cares about the differences the change will make to their world they will not care much about the organization’s attempts to move forward.

The second challenge is operational. You alone cannot be expected to identify each single difference that change will make to your function, department or organization, but a co-operative effort could. Those closest to the job will be able to view the changes from a different angle, and perhaps spot unforeseen difficulties or opportunities which you may have missed.

Step 2 – Plan the route

The quickest and most effective way of getting anywhere is to work out the best route beforehand. Plan a route which breaks the journey up into manageable chunks. This helps to make the process seem far less formidable. When planning the route local knowledge is very valuable. That knowledge is usually locked up in the head of your staff, so consultation is not only vital in terms of their involvement but essential if you wish to avoid difficulties.

Step 3 – Manage the process

Unless you manage the journey the grand design may fail. What may scupper it is the human factor. Follow the Change Cycle below, a simple model of how people experience change and then consider how individuals and groups can cope with pressures created by it. Understanding this can help managers and coaches provide practical support to people undergoing change.

The Change Cycle

We can identify five stages in this process of adjustment to new circumstances. At each stage the relationship between levels of performance and self-esteem alters. By self-esteem we mean both self-confidence and satisfaction with life and work.

Stage 1: Denial

“We’ve always done things this way” “Why change – we’re making a profit, aren’t we?” “Don’t change a winning team” “my life isn’t so bad really, I can cope with it staying the same” These are some of the ways denial can find expression. Faced with the possibility of change, people will often find value in their present circumstances, often in situations that they have complained of previously.

Stage 2: Defence

Now the situation becomes clearer. People must begin to face up to new tasks, working for a new boss or with a different group of people, perhaps in a different department or at a new location. Thus they become aware that they must come to terms with changes in the way they work. People may attempt to defend their own job or their existing circumstances and often both performance and self-esteem plummet.

Stage 3: Discarding

At this stage people begin to let go of the past and look forward to the future. People begin to identify with the changes; they talk openly and constructively about the new way. When this point is reached, self-esteem begins to flow back.

Stage 4: Adapting

Just as people must adapt to new ways, so the new ways will have to adapt – procedures, structure and machines rarely work effectively first time and new relationships need time and effort to work too. People begin to try out the new situation for themselves. They test new behaviours, try working to different standards and ways of coping with changes. This way people learn new skills.

Stage 5: Normalizing

Now the people involved have created a new life, system, process or organization. New relationships between people and processes have been tried, modified and accepted. These now become incorporated into understandings of the new way of working and the ‘new’ becomes part of ‘normal’ behaviour.

Supporting people through change

It seems that people experience change in these ways – initially as disturbance, perhaps even as a shock then coming to accept its reality, testing it out and engaging in a process of mutual adaptation. Finally, they come to terms with it. Self-esteem and performance vary, initially declining and then growing again. The ‘engine’ for rebuilding performance is the self-esteem of the people involved.

Finally, we do not suggest that people go through these stages neatly or that everyone goes through them at the same time or rate. The important point is that people do seem to experience significant changes in these ways and that this leads on to a number of practical ways in which the problem of coping can be handled.

Coping with the process of change places great demands on the individuals involved, whatever their circumstances or level in the organization. As a leader or a coach you will be required not only to deal with your own reactions but also to assist others in rebuilding their self-confidence and self-esteem as a preliminary to lifting performance.

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …

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