The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries is very simply a wonderfully insightful and useful book. Read it. Then, read it again.
The text offers a multiplicity of insights into the personal and organizational dynamics of leadership. It includes questionnaires that allow one to relatively quickly further assess what might be potential “blind-spots” in personal understanding affecting both oneself and the organization for which one works.
Along with being an eminent business professional with a background in economics, Kets de Vries is also a trained psychoanalyst and calls leaders further into the recognition of needing personal psychological healthiness in order to best lead an organization forward. His delineation of the essential characteristics of healthy individuals is refreshing as it includes both a significant respect for self and a deep respect for others.
It is in the emphasis on respect for others permeating Kets de Vries work that I found myself to be particularly captured by its poignancy. In an era where the bottom-line is still being pursued at break-neck speed, come-hell-or-high-water despite major negative consequences being experienced in past years around the world, it is very important for someone to be articulating the human dimensions of leadership and organizations so well in a way that does not forget that doors need to remain open and lights need to remain on. Kent de Vries in fact writes that, “My main objective in studying leadership is to bring the person back into the organization.”
This book really is a gem and I would like to comment on it at length. However, I will limit myself to a few broad brush-stroke thoughts on a few of his pieces from the text.
First, I loved one of the initial stories that the author relates about a frog trying to cross a river full of alligators while an owl looks on. The frog calls up to the owl and asks for advice about how to cross the river without getting eaten. The owl replies, suggesting that the frog flap his legs as quickly as possible and doing this should bring him safely to the other side of the river. The frog does it. As you might already imagine, it doesn’t go well. On the frogs way down into the maw of a waiting alligator the frog wails up to the owl, “why did you tell me to do this!?” The owl offering condolences and apologies replies that concepts/theories are its main interests, not implementation. To all this Kent de Vries offers the very well known and too little practiced wisdom that “synchronizing vision and action…aligning ideas and execution” is vital. Theory and action/practice go together; especially as concerns running of organizations, oversight of people as part of a workforce
Second, I appreciated his emphasis on the need to avoid the “mussel syndrome.” This is the tendency to latch-on for life to one way of doing things to the detriment of people and structure even though life is like an ever-changing river. As the philosopher Heraclitus notes and Kent de Vries offers, “You can never step into the same river twice.” Adaptation is key to an organization’s long-term health, but to be fully healthy it must be various forms of sustainable adaptation that don’t enact wholesale purgings of the most valuable resources at a moments notice. Kent de Vries does an excellent job walking us through the tension of change and stability.
Finally for here, I appreciated his ending focus on the four H’s of leadership: Hope, Humanity, Humility and Humor [the last H echoes as reminder of his just previous discussion in the book of the necessity of the wise fool (the morosophe per the French) as partner for the leader as both confidant and essentially as prophet].
Overall, Kent de Vries calls leaders to bring a sense of community love, community freedom and community purpose to organizational culture. He does a really, really good job. It’s engaging and persuasive. You should read it.