What theories do you have about leadership? How do they guide the work you do? Whether we can articulate them or not, we all have assumptions about human behavior and how people change and what good leadership looks like. When we can make them explicit and test them in our experience, we are able to be more thoughtful and intentional about how we lead.
This is a series of conversations about Bowen Family Systems Theory, a theory that has deeply influenced us and our book The Leader’s Journey. You may have heard about triangling or about being a less anxious presence or about being defined and connected without knowing much about the deeper theory that underlies those popular ideas.
#1. The nuclear family emotional system and differentiation of self
In this episode, we cover a lot of ground as we look at two of the eight concepts of Bowen theory: the nuclear family emotional system and differentiation of self. This sets us up to talk about the rest of the theory in future episodes and to make application to leadership at every level.
#2. Triangles and cutoff
Can you see the triangles in your family and your organization? How do you manage yourself in them? What role does distancing and cutoff have in your relationships over time? Can you imagine a different way of showing up in these intense and anxious relationships?
In this episode, we look at two of the eight concepts of Bowen theory: triangles and cutoff. This sets us up to talk about the rest of the theory in future episodes and to make application to leadership at every level.
#3. The family projection process and the multigenerational transmission process
How did the role you played in your family shape who you became? How does it shape your leadership? How do the people in your organization express the role they learned in their families? We invite you to consider how your family helped you shape the self that you bring to your leadership as well as how these concepts show up in the organization that you lead.
In this episode, we look at two of the eight concepts of Bowen theory: the family projection process and the multigenerational transmission process.
#4. Sibling position and societal regression
Leadership issues as close to home as sibling position and as big-picture as societal regression — Bowen Family Systems Theory has it all.
In this episode, we talk about how our birth order powerfully shapes our behavior as leaders as well as the behavior of those we lead. Then we explore how anxiety shows up in our society in ways that we all recognize from today’s headlines and we consider what less-anxious leadership looks like in times of upheaval and uncertainty.
#5. Responding to questions and common myths
In this episode, we wonder about the relationship of the theory to our spirituality. What do we have to learn about faith from this theory? How can we approach our faith and the faith of others with curiosity and objectivity?
We also look at common myths about BFST and answer common questions that people have about the theory. We hope that this series will lead you to investigate further and consider BFST as one of the theories that guide your leadership.
Bowen Family Systems Theory series blog posts:
For basic information about BFST, we recommend these resources:
- The 8 Concepts of Bowen Theory by Roberta Gilbert
- Extraordinary Relationships by Roberta Gilbert
- For a deep dive into Bowen theory in Bowen’s own words, try Family Therapy in Clinical Practice by Murray Bowen.
To expand your application of Bowen theory, consider:
- A Diary of Everyday Growing Up (podcast and blog) by Jenny Brown
- A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman