15 August 2015

What You Might Be Doing Wrong as a Parent, Teacher, or Manager (Deci's Three Models)

One of the books to greatly influence my thinking was William Deci's Why We Do What We Do. Deci makes a distinction between three styles of parenting, management, and teaching. For simplicity, I'll call the parent, manager or teacher the mentor and the child, employee, or student a mentee. (As the person making this distinction, I'll be like a manatee, like a referee who defines the game between mentor and mentee. But I digress.)

1. Control. 
This is the classic model we'd expect in a Hollywood movie that included a father who was a military officer. He's commanding. He has clear expectations for his children and those expectations don't just define what time they should get home. The children are expected to follow a certain course in life, to worship a particular way, even to provide a particular number and type of grandchildren.
With this mentoring model, the mentor clearly defines the goal, agenda, and process. Your job as mentee is to follow their script.
This is easy to criticize but it creates a predictable environment. Well, until it doesn't.

2. Abandonment.
This model arises out of a reaction to the control model. In this model, the "authority" figure doesn't pretend to set the agenda. Or define your behavior. You're pretty much on your own. The good news is that you have freedom. The bad news is that you don't have much guidance. Kids who grew up with this model could very plausibly become the parents who adopt the above model of control. In the Hollywood movie of cliches, the character representing this model would be the hippie who just says, "Cool," to most anything the child suggests or tries.

Given that circumstances can define when one of the above is more appropriate than another, it is easy to toggle between them. This can make the cliched military or hippie father actually seem more coherent than you. At least they are consistent. There is a better way.

3. Autonomy-supportive.
This third way is the hero of Deci's story and the one that won me over. The notion here is to shift the locus of control from the mentor to the mentee. As prelude to coaching the mentee on how, the mentee coaches (or perhaps more accurately, coaxes out of) the mentee what sort of goal would be appropriate given their own preferences, skills, aspirations and the context of the time they are living in. The mentor is not the locus of control, does not define the goals. In this it is similar to the abandonment model. But unlike the abandonment model, the mentor stays around to help the mentee to translate those goals into processes, into how.
The implications of this model are sweeping. It suggests a creative response from each mentee. This is highly disruptive to the status quo. It means that the mentee may define a goal that the mentor has little experience with and quickly turn the mentor into a co-learner rather than a person who can knowledgeably inform the mentee about what to do next or how to do it. It turns the two into collaborators rather than sage and student. It disperses power over others and instead emphasizes power to accomplish.

My next post will be about what the adoption of this third model suggests for institutions, from government to schools and corporations. Because if this really is the best model for most circumstances, it suggests a real change in how we define institutions.

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