Thrive Space Blog
Downton Abbey: A Reflection of Our Hearts

Through the creative genius of Julian Fellowes, the characters of a British aristocratic family, the Crawley’s of Downton Abbey, as well as the retinue of staff that serves them, come alive with all their root motivations on full display. Our three previous blog posts and podcasts have described the effect our entitlement to respect, value, or approval has on all our relationships and decisions. In our two-part podcast this month, we interact with Dennis’ daughter, Liz, who knows and loves these Downton Abbey characters. Our discussion draws out and highlights how root motivations drive their behavior and interactions. I’m sure you’ll see yourself and those in your life in our descriptions.

Ach, how you hate to be wrong!

— Isobel Crawley, Downton Abbey

"I wouldn't know. I'm not familiar with the sensation."

— Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham

As we close our series, remember that we began with this central idea: all your relationships, either in business or life, will flourish or flounder based on how well you know your own heart. There is a lot to discover there: spiritual awareness, emotional intelligence, relational skills, conflict styles, personality traits, and the effect of previous experiences. Dennis and I will address ways to navigate those areas toward healthy lives and thriving companies in our ongoing blogs and podcasts. Over the course of three decades, we have created several tools to support relationships, develop leaders, and build successful companies. In this series, we realized that this one idea that needed to be unpacked first.

Root motivations are fundamental to our lives. They exist throughout our development and are transformed by our understanding of them and ourselves.

They will show up differently in our various relationships, based on how we are raised and taught. Although they are different from our personality types, they will be filtered through our individual personalities and appear in various ways.

For example, in their wonderful children’s story, The Treasure Tree, John Trent and Gary Smalley compare the relationship styles of four animal friends: Lion, Beaver, Golden Retriever, and Otter. The Lion insists he knows where he’s going and wants to lead, the Beaver needs to keep everything organized, the Golden Retriever wants to make sure everyone is feeling good, and the Otter just wants to have a great time. A respect-based Lion is fully understandable, but are there approval-based Lions? (Are you thinking of The Wizard of Oz?) A value-based Otter seems plausible, but what of a Golden Retriever who siphons value out of helping people?

Our entitlements will filter through our personality and manifest in some unique ways. Those who have experienced abuse, trauma, or mental illness will sometimes demonstrate unusual or hyperbolic responses to pain that require specialized care. Again, our role is not to label and judge but to recognize, empathize, and reach out for any help we need.

Understanding Root Motivations

Of course, the crucible for working out our understanding of root motivations and their implications is our closest relationship. Think through your childhood and recognize why some of you always had to be right, why others always championed their significance, why some avoided confrontations and tried to referee when they happened. Did your father push you toward success at sports or in school? Was your mother really good at mothering? Look at your work situation and notice who always needs more clarity, who hates to be second-guessed, how long it takes another group to make a decision.

What would be the point of living if we didn't let life change us?

— Carson, Downton Abbey
Downton Abbey - Downstairs

In the history of your close relationships, the ones that lasted and those that moved apart, when did you feel the most loved and cared for? What made your conversations productive, and how did they turn into conflicts? Over time you will learn how to recognize why you are encouraged or hurt in a conversation why you receive gratitude or grief when you engage someone. From that point, you can listen to others to discover what the other person needs and what part you have in meeting that need.

I have an approval-based wife who has learned to slow down my respect-based freight train to comprehension and competence with a simple reminder that I just might not get clarity on this one. She also remembers to ask someone a few more questions than she needs the answers to because she knows I will want the information. She has come to respond less out of fear, and she often takes on some resilient courage to move an uncomfortable conflict toward peace.

On my side, I have learned that being right is different from making sure everyone else knows I’m right. I still hate to be lost when I’m traveling, but I have submitted to GPS technology rather than demand clarity from my (to remain unnamed) human navigator who struggles with map reading. If I choose to listen carefully in a conversation or a meeting, I can learn how understanding and wisdom can play out even when my respect button is being pushed.

I can channel my gifts and abilities to bring people together and help them thrive.

Both Dennis and I have seen the benefit of the root motivations paradigm in multiple situations: leadership development, business management, team building, organizational conflicts, board rooms, cross-cultural decision making, and many more.

Keep Cultivating
Downton Abbey - Isobel & Violet Crawley2

Seems a pity not to take a chance to end a quarrel. Isn't it better than to let it fester?

— Isobel Crawley, Downton Abbey

Let us know if you’d like to interact further around your root motivation and how you can thrive as a leader in your relationships.

And, if you missed our two-part Downton Abbey podcast episodes you can check them out here:

To Your Health!


Resources for this topic:

This month I’ll leave you to watch a few episodes of Downton Abbey and see what you learn. Or binge the whole series and the movie like I did.

You’ll be better for it, I promise.

Q&A for this topic:

  • Are you aware of how your root motivation affects your relationships?
  • Do you know the root motivations of those around you?
  • Have you learned to speak the “root” language of those you influence?
  • How will you personally begin to move from your entitlement to respect, value, or approval, to wisdom, inspiration, or peace?