“Obvious as the need for the human factor may seem, a considerable body of research in organizations stands out for its conspicuous neglect of the people who are the principal actors in theses organizations.”
Each of us needs time for mental self-renewal. Whit Schultz
Manfred Kets De Vries brings his experience as an economist, psychoanalyst, and educator to present a different view of leadership than the ordinary ‘how-to’ manuals that are prevalent today.
In his book on leadership, Dr. Kets De Vries focused on three issues:
- The ‘rationale’ behind ‘irrational’ behavior. This is critical to understanding the leader’s ‘inner theater’ that affect her personality and leadership style.
- Insights into the ‘darker’ side of leadership. What patterns might contribute to the derailment of leaders.
- Identifying the characteristics of effective leaders and profiling what their organizations look like.
One concept that differentiates Dr. De Vries’ work from others is that he uses a ‘clinical paradigm’. Much of the motivation for leadership behavior is generated below the surface. The formal aspects of the organization – Vision, Mission, Goals, etc.. – are visible and ‘rational’. The hidden part – the part where the decisions are really made – is hidden and ‘irrational’.
Dr. De Vries is concerned with those ‘below the surface’ variables such as power and influence, group dynamics, stress reactions, feelings, and corporate culture. He calls these the Core Conflictual Relationship Theme (CCRT). CCRT is important in corporate life as well as in our personal lives. To understand a leader’s behavior better we need to understand her CCRT – her wishes, anticipation of others’ reactions, and her own reactions. These are in her inner theater.
Figures, a Table, and nearly 50 ‘Boxes’ give the reader chances to stop and reflect on the material. Besides these illustrations, Dr. De Vries’ anecdotes on real leaders who succeeded or failed are interesting and informative. One example of an effective leader is Richard Branson who illustrates the difference between ‘leadership’ and ‘management’ characteristics. As a truly great leader his vision is deeply embedded. He is open, flexible, knows how to empower his subordinates, and cares about social issues.
“Know Thyself” is an old saying. De Vries talks of ‘emotional intelligence’ as a person’s inner journey of self-discovery. We start by getting to know our own emotions.
The next phase of emotional intelligence is learning to empathize with others. The skill of empathy, says De Vries, can be taught and learned. Leaders need to know how to see the world through someone else’s eyes in order to “begin to manage emotions in others, influencing co-workers via emotional means.” It was very interesting to see if this was another side to the coin so to speak with Friedman’s statement about empathy as “a power tool in the hands of the weak to sabotage the strong. … the most deleterious effect on leaders is that empathy misleads them as to the factors that go into growth and survival and the nature of what is toxic to life itself.”
So, might we say that the emotionally intelligent leader who knows her own true feelings can empathize with someone else without getting sucked into their game? Just because a leader understands the other person’s feelings does not mean that she will necessarily be manipulated by that person as Friedman is concerned about.
Further, may an emotionally intelligent Christian leader know how to employ De Vries’ sub-skills to actually help the person for their own sake and not just to ‘manage’ them? The sub-skills include things that Christian leaders could be doing anyway – “listening actively, picking up on nonverbal communication, and keying into the wide spectrum of emotions.”
What is it that makes some people resilient? Why do some people do well in life despite disadvantages while other don’t? They have “an ongoing outlook that helps them over repeated obstacles. In general, resilient people deal with emotionally difficult problems proactively.” They are also able to reframe problems in a positive way, give themselves time for self-reflection, and maintain a network of supportive relationships. In fact, they do all of the things that we are doing in our Leadership and Global Perspectives course. That is how, but what is why? As Christians we have one more thing going for us – The Holy Spirit actively guides us. And we believe in a loving God Who allows us to have difficult times for a reason – perhaps our spiritual growth or for someone else’s benefit. We are therefore able to have the optimism that De Vries sees as healthy.
De Vries’ recognizes that women have a natural advantage in leadership in terms of their better interpersonal and cross-cultural skills. He states that many more women are in middle management positions today, but “the number of women in top management positions hasn’t increased very much over the last few decades.” Males in many cultures are just not comfortable yet with the idea of men having female bosses. This is too bad because diversity makes for richer decision making and more creative problem solving.
Globalization is the future, De Vries points out. The interpersonal and cross-cultural skills of women will be needed. Yes, women still balance work and home more than men, but many companies are making ‘flexible’ work schedules and work places. Men are also getting more involved than ever before in caring for their children and doing domestic chores. It is a beginning of a shift in attitudes that will hopefully continue as people become more globally sensitive.
The leader of the future will have the following characteristics – self-management, ability to manage cognitive complexity, cultural relativity (ethnocentricity has no role in this world), an action orientation, generativity, team-building skills, impression management, task-relevant knowledge, and ability to inspire trust in subordinates and maintain that trust throughout the growth of the organization. Wise, humble leaders might also cultivate a friend or associate as a ‘fool’ or ‘truth teller’ as a foil for herself.
Finally, the effective leader will demonstrate:
Hope – Followers will follow a leader with a strong sense of aspiration.
Humanity – How does the leader treat other people?
Humility – This job is not theirs alone.
Humor – A good indicator of mental health as well as a diffuser of problems. The leader should be able to laugh at herself.
 Manfred Kets De Vries. The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise. (New York, NY: Prentice Hall, 2006). xix.
 Ibid., 91.
 Ibid., 27.
 Edwin H. Friedman. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. (New York, NY: Church Publishing, 2017). 27.
 Kets De Vries., 27.
 Ibid., 89.
 Ibid., 257.