TheManager’s Leadership Book Review

Don’t Bring It to Work – Breaking the Family Patterns That Limit Success, by Sylvia Lafair, PhD

I absolutely love it when an expert in a non-business field brings their knowledge to the business world. Whether it’s a former all-star athlete turned successful businessman (ala Julius Erving), or a rehabbed musician turned stock trader (ala Guns N’ Roses’ bassist Duff McKagan), they almost always provide interesting and important perspectives on how we conduct business, and how we lead and manage others.

One of the biggest problems in business today is that we already have all of the answers and we feel don’t need any new blood changing the way we do things. I’ve always been fascinated by the closed minded who fail to embrace or even believe that someone from the outside – armed with a fresh perspective – can make a positive impact. The fact that so many continue believe this despite the myriad of examples of outsiders who successfully bring change is nothing short of astounding. Dr. Sylvia Lafair is one such example of an outsider successfully delivering change.

Lafair, a former family therapist who now serves as the president of Creative Energy Options, Inc., brought her expertise to the business world and with it a unique point of view about office politics, leadership and workplace roles and relationships. From working with dysfunctional families to years of providing leadership training and insights into workplace behavior and relationships for corporations like Microsoft, Dr. Lafair operated in the greatest leadership laboratory of all time: The real world. In the process, she also penned a great read that captures the very essence of what’s holding so many leaders back: Their reliance on destructive family patterns. Her book, Don’t Bring It to Work, shows us that our behavior cannot exist independently from our interpersonal relationships, despite the facade we think we portray.

Charity Isn’t All That Begins At Home

If you buy in to Lafair’s premise, then virtually everything that’s holding you back at work is closely related to the role(s) you play at home. Whether you are a persecutor or pleaser at work, chances are you play this role in your personal life, as well. In fact, according to Lafair, you are basically compelled to play the same role at work that you do at home – you are simply more comfortable this way – unless you can be made aware of your behavior, understand it and then transform yourself by taking appropriate actions. (By the way, if you don’t buy in to this premise, then you’re likely a rebel at both work and at home; which means, of course, that Lafair is still right.)

Certainly, it’s not that uncomplicated; and bravo to Lafair for not trying to insinuate that we simply live in these roles and those are our only issues. Equally important to the role you play are the roles of those around you. If you are not aware that you are a slave to your personal patterns, then you are likely to have conflict with those who do not fit into your “ideal.” As Dr. Lafair puts it: “When our colleagues and bosses don’t match our expectations, we realize this in a matter of seconds, and just like that, the seeds of conflict are sewn.”

Unlike the typical easy-read coping tomes such as The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Who Moved My Cheese, this book requires real dedication from the reader. In other words, it is not for the casual passerby who just wants to polish this or that about their behavior at the office. Just like real change, this book requires work.

The Recommendation

There is no doubt that I recommend this book, I do. My dilemma is whether it is more leadership, self-help or team dynamics. The truth is that Don’t Bring It to Work can help your personal and professional development much in the same way as Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits does. Just as 7 Habits applies as much to your home life as it does to your work life, so does Don’t Bring It to Work. And, just as Covey’s work is as much about leadership as it is about personal improvement, so is Lafair’s.

The mix of real world examples with a sometimes textbook feel (likely from the massive amount of footnoting early on) is actually very well done. I especially applaud Lafair for her inclusion of a recap called “Takeaways” at the end of each chapter. Because the concepts are sometimes very deep and the material sometimes very new to the reader, having this brief recap at the end of the chapters is very helpful.

While many can benefit from this book, I especially recommend if for two specific people: First, for the young manager who is tiring of seeing his colleagues promoted at greater frequency; and second, for the self-actualized leader who cannot seem to find anything wrong with her style or approach, yet her team is still a mess.