Executive Coaching Articles

Parents Who’ve Been Poor Work Models

Your role models for work showed up very early — with your parents and family. As children, we are very observant, and most of what we learn as young children stays with us for life. So what happens to you if your parents were poor role models about work? One client recently confided:

When my father came home from work, I saw a hardworking man who was not happy. He was a role model, but a role model who showed me how to NOT be happy in my career. Work for me looked like long hours with no real rewards other than paying the bills.

Can you see yourself in this picture? Maybe so, but that was then — this is now. Instead of dwelling in the past, let’s find some ways to turn those early messages around.

Make a list of the messages you received from your early role models. What attitudes and beliefs did they have about work that you still have today?

You may believe that you have to work 50 or more hours each week; you may believe that you have to have a certain job title; you may believe that you have to stay at an unfulfilling job because it pays the bills. You may not even realize that these are long held beliefs, because you’ve been living by them your whole life.

Once your list is complete, split your present beliefs into two categories:

  1. beliefs that are positive, encouraging, and have brought you fulfillment; and
  2. beliefs that are negative, limiting and have held you back from moving to higher levels of management.

Look at the limiting beliefs you have. How can you change and expand them so that you open yourself up to more possibilities? Do it by talking back. Turn each negative belief into a positive statement.


  • Instead of I have to work long hours to get ahead, try this: I accomplish what I need to do easily and efficiently.
  • Instead of This job is safe and it pays the bills, try this: I am open to finding the perfect job with compensation that matches my experience.

Be creative about your current position. Take time each day to focus on the positive. How can work be happier? How can you put more creativity and fun into your job? What can you take control of and change so that you experience satisfaction instead of frustration?

Just because your early role models approached work in one way, you don’t have to continue the trend. Set a new trend and break the pattern of negative beliefs. Become a role model for your subordinates and co-workers. You can create work that comes from the core of who you are. You can act in authentic and genuine ways, bringing the person you most want to be to your work and enjoying the fulfillment that goes with it.