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The Birth Order of Territoriality

Mall_playgroundThe other night, during a family outing to the mall, my wife took my older daughter to look for some clothes, leaving my younger daughter and me to fend for ourselves at the mall playground.  Always the people-watcher, I observed the other dads who had been banished to play-land and started noticing a really interesting trend.  It started with one other dad who was obviously a first time father.  I say this for two reasons:  1) he still was wearing designer clothes, and 2) he was hovering over his little girl, never letting his hand more than two inches away from her at any point.  On the other end of the spectrum were the dads who obviously had more than one child there; they were vaguely aware that they had offspring in the area.  As long as there was no bloodshed or loss of consciousness, they were content to sit on the sidelines.  Me?  I like playing with Abby, but I'm cool with giving her space to explore on her own a little bit, so I guess I fit somewhere in the middle.

In office politics, there seems to be the most trouble at the same two extremes as parenting.  You either deal with the overprotective professional, who is territorial about everything under his or her realm.  If you dare to give the slightest hint of invasion, it's as good as a declaration of war.  When "overprotective dad" made eye contact with me at one point, he actually scowled at me as if to say "Back off, bub."  I can't blame him; with my firstborn, I could have earned a spot as a Presidential bodyguard.  Territorial people are difficult to handle because they're doing the right things... just to an uncomfortable extreme.  In business, we want people to care, to take ownership, to seize the accomplishment.  However, when that psychological ownership comes at the expense of others, it's time to intervene.

Dealing with the overprotective and territorial professional is even more challenging because of the emotion involved.  Too often, management ignores the problem because the territorial person is getting stuff done and bringing in the results.  Or they "fix" the problem by reassigning the person to a new territory/department/division without ever explaining why this is occurring.  Then over time, the person becomes territorial again.  Fixing the problem may require having a difficult discussion with the professional, or it may require adding on more responsibilities to dillute their focus (like adding more children cures first-time fathers of overprotectiveness).  Whatever the reason, it does require some event to fix it.

How have you dealt with these kinds of people in the past?

What about the "under-protective" laissez-faire managers who don't do enough?


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