small change: your formative years


small change 


Ciarán Fenton

How small changes in your behaviour will have a big impact on how you work, lead or follow

That’s the working title of a book I’m writing, initially as a series of short blogs.

Blog 1 small change: seven principles

Blog 2 small change: your career is a unique business

Blog 3 small change: your soft balance sheet

Blog 4 small change: your D Liability

Blog 5 small change: your timeline

Blog 6 small change: your formative years


Seven principles

Principle 1

Your career is

  • a unique business,
  • one over seven billion in its uniqueness


Blog 6 small change: your formative years

Formative years

Your current behaviour is, according to academic research, a function of your formative years which are a key component of your timeline.

What were your formative years like?

I use a simple scale to elicit the answer to this question.

Where, on my rough scale, would you place your formative years’ experiences?

7-10?: I use the popular TV series Little House On The Prairie or The Waltons as metaphors to capture formative years experiences mainly characterised by loving and nurturing contexts in which you could negotiate your needs and have them met, or not, reasonably.

4-6?: A mixed experience. Sometimes like The Waltons, and sometimes very definitely not. Some good stuff; some significant pain.

0-3? Very tough. The absolute opposite of a Waltons experience.

My focus here is not about analysing precisely what happened and embarking on a process to deal with it  – a complex task best performed perhaps by therapists – but to address at a high level only to what extent you are still playing out decisions you took during your formative years.

To illustrate: Case Study 1 – The Micro-Managing CEO

Many years ago, I worked with a board whose CEO was a self-confessed micro-manager. I have worked with many of these, but this particular CEO was unusual in that

a) he acknowledged “his D Liability”

b) he had high emotional intelligence (EQ) and knew why he behaved in that manner – it was because in his formative years his parents would not tolerate failure of any kind in any context. He, therefore, decided not to trust anyone because he felt that he couldn’t fully rely on anyone to do anything which might impact him without his constant oversight and this behaviour persisted into adulthood, and

c) he was gloriously up for small change.

What did you decide during your formative years?


The Family Dynamics We Grew Up with Shape How We Work

Roger Jones, Harvard Business Review, July 19 2016


Ciaran Fenton









Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s