Father Figure at Work

“Father Figure” Attitude at Work

Why it can destroy any collaboration potential and how to apply it the right way.

A few days ago I was invited to talk about the importance of communication to an audience of internal auditors in Athens. The speech was titled “Auditing the Internal Auditor – Do we speak the same language?”

Having worked as an Internal Auditor in the past, I used to be concerned myself about the rather negative perception of internal audit as a function, but most importantly, the negative perception of the internal auditor as a person and a professional in the workplace. I had the impression that the environment, the people we were auditing, were predisposed to us.

Seeing things from a more objective perspective now, both the reason and the solution to this problem seems clear. It is one and the same thing. It is the attitude of the internal auditor. The solution requires an attitude shift, a change in the way the auditor manages the human relationships in the professional environment.

Most of us have a tendency to look for the root of the problem everywhere else but in ourselves. What if all it takes for an internal auditor to be appreciated, to be well-perceived, to be an ambassador of the real value of the function of internal audit for any business, is a change in himself?

Part of my speech was about managing the ego, a fundamental principle behind really talking the Language of Communication. The ego of others and the our own.

The solution requires an attitude shift, a change in the way the auditor manages the human relationships in the professional environment.

The ego is an inseparable part of us, of who we are. We cannot reap it off and put it in the closet. We can, however, talk to it and influence it. Simply put, our ego asks for validation. We want to be acknowledged, to be valued, to be appreciated for who we are. We respond positively to messages and people who genuinely confirm our ego, but our ego makes as fight back when it gets attacked. Who can deny that, instinctively, we label any “ego-challenger” as an enemy?

The thing we tend to forget, though, is that all people around us have an ego as well! An ego that responds in exactly the same way! So, if we want to honestly develop and maintain effective, open, positive human relationships, we should always bear in mind that we should treat the ego of others in the same way that we ourselves expect to be treated.

Managing the egos of both sides of a human relationship requires careful balancing and serious inner-talk. But it is feasible no doubt. And this is a serious step in transforming our human relationships in the positive direction.

We tend to forget this important balance.

During the Q&A session that followed the speech, a member of the audience raised a comment that actually provided undisputable justification on the importance of ego and the tendency to ill-manage it. An experienced auditor, responding to the point that we should treat the ego of others, said: “I feel that the internal auditor should project a “father figure” image, an authoritative vibe”.

This is actually the problem. When you are projecting this, how does the recipient interpret it? “So, you are a “father”. And who am I? Your child? I don’t know, and you are here to show me?” This is the starting point for things to go the opposite way from the way we intend to. Turn this around, put yourself to the place of being treated as a “child” and you get the answer.

A good father knows that he is a role model in the eyes of his child. He doesn’t state this though. Instead, he kneels down to bring himself to the level of his child. He shows his love, his appreciation to his child. He listens to his child speak, he values his input, and he shares his experiences, his values, his directions through stories instead of dictating them. This is how father-figure really works positively. “I’m your father and you’ll do as I say” simply doesn’t work.

To win the people around you, you need to find ways to connect. For the internal auditor, who in many cases bears the label of an “inquisitor”, working on your approach to establish fruitful human connection becomes more crucial, since in many cases he or she has to succeed in changing a pre-installed, pre-existing notion. And how do you achieve this? It starts with your own mindset.

It’s about valuing the other, not about using the opportunity to self-boost your ego. The moment you take this action, verbally or not, you are disregarding the ego of the other, at a point when you should acknowledge and appreciate it, the same way you want it for your ego. The people we meet have their own value, their own history, their own everyday challenges. Bring them in the spotlight, so that you a get a place there yourself.

I am not an internal auditor. Not for a long time. I am clear though that people working in this area have significant value to add to the organization they work for. As in all professions though, as in life outside work, you can’t get things done unless you win over the people around you, unless you actively work on developing strong and positive human relationships. It’s about really speaking the Language of Communication. It’s about really shifting your mindset into focusing on the side that matters as much as you matter. It’s about the others.

Can internal auditors be perceived in a way that they honestly deserve? Yes. 

Is it a journey that takes time and effort? Yes. 

Does the answer come from the internal auditor himself? Yes.

Leave your Ego at the Door

Read more about how you can win over the hearts and minds of people in your work environment.

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