DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Leadership Mystique Concept

Written by: on October 27, 2016


Manfred Kets de Vries – The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise



The author’s credentials, contributions, and accolades related to a diversity of academic domains could fill a small volume of its own. We recall this economist-psychoanalyst’s work in Reflections on Character and Leadership: On the Couch with Manfred Kets de Vries. There are some overlaps between the two books, but central to them both is what Kets de Vries proposes as the “clinical paradigm—the particular perspective that underlies psychoanalysis and related fields.”[1] The clinical paradigm is the lens through which he enables his readers to understand the internal world of organizational theory, leadership, and practice.



The author puts a great emphasis on human dynamics in organizations, rather than organizational structures and systems. His focus is on the internal, subjective core of the individual and the individual’s interpersonal experience in social settings.  Kets de Vries explains, “My work in organizations is grounded in the clinical paradigm. This means that I use concepts from psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, developmental psychology, family systems theory, and cognition to understand the behavior of people in organizations.”[2] The clinical paradigm is based on the notion that a large part of our motives and behavior are the result of influences beyond the realm of conscious awareness. Three premises characterize the clinical paradigm: “perception is not necessarily reality; all human behavior no matter how irrational it appears has a rationale; and people are the product of their past.”[3]

Kets de Vries asserts, “We all have a façade, a persona, a public self. What that persona does is what the world sees, but something very different may be happening deep inside, where our private self or shadow side hides.”[4] He goes so far as to say that the  the persona could bear little resemblance to a self so private even we don’t know it.  A shadow side can have adverse effects on other people or an entire organization.

According to Kets de Vries, in the world of business, emotional intelligence, the synthesis of interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence is considered to be as valuable as logical mathematical intelligence.  Self-knowledge is both the first step toward emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness. “Emotional intelligence helps eliminate cognitive and emotional distortions, and helps individuals to recognize their feelings and use them more effectively.”[5]   The next step is “learning how to acknowledge and deal with the whole spectrum of feelings we experience.”[6] The third step is “learning to recognize and deal with the emotions of others.”[7] The author indicates this developmental process is enhanced through active listening, zeroing in on nonverbal communication, and being cognizant of and able to manage the emotional spectrum in oneself and others.

Undeniably, leadership has a cultural dimension and cultural values are the foundation for institutional and leadership practices. Understanding the building blocks of culture will help us be aware of differences in leadership styles among cultures. Various aspects of leadership are impacted by cultural difference, such as, attitudes toward authority, modes of decision making, hierarchy, and power which are manifestations of national expression. Everyone carries cultural stereotypes in their mind which should be eradicated when they are exposed because there is no tolerance for ethnocentricity in global organizations.

Lastly, Kets de Vries perceives effective leadership encompassing hope, humanity, humility, and humor. Leaders have to create a sense of hope to realize their objectives. Leaders’ awareness of their humanity influence their treatment of other humans. Good leaders are humble because they understand they are not the sole achievers in the organization. Effective leaders have a good sense of humor and can laugh at their own missteps.



Kets de Vries’ psychoanalytical interpretation of the human factor in leadership causes him to stand out from the other social theorists we have been studying. However, there are some recurring themes and parallelisms with other works.

In line with James Collins (Good to Great) that organizations need the “right people” in place for optimal function, Kets de Vries states, “The effectiveness of an organization’s employees determines how the organizational ‘machine’ will perform.”[8]  In his delineation of effective leaders, he describes them as humble, “realizing that no conquest is theirs alone;”  emotionally stable; assertive and achievement orientated; possess social skills; open to new ideas and experiences; flexible and likable; know how to reframe difficult situations in a positive way;  are team players; possess above average analytical intelligence; possess emotional intelligence— know how to manage their emotions and read the emotions of others; are aware of their strengths and weaknesses; they know what they stand for.”[9]

This characterization has elements of similarity to Kets de Vries’ “Charismatic/Architectural leadership; James Collins “Level Five Leadership” (Good to Great); Edwin Friedman’s “Self-differentiated Leader” (A Failure of Nerve). Also, Kets de Vries’ explanation of corporate consequences of the mussel syndrome is what Albert Hirschman addresses regarding declining firms and organizations (Exit, Voice, and Loyalty), and his discussion of dysfunctional leadership patterns of conflict avoidance, is what Friedman considers a failure of nerve.

I found the list identifying global leadership abilities to be quite insightful. Of course one is expected to be knowledgeable of and interested in the socioeconomic and political life of other countries, have good nonverbal communication skills and the ability to relate well to people from other cultures. But, it is crucial that one has a well-informed understanding of how cultural differences impact the way people function in diverse cultural environments. I did not resonate with abilities that required “a high tolerance for frustration and ambiguity and a willingness to take risks when the potential for payoff is high.”[10]


  1. Manfred Kets de Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise (Harlow, England: Prentice Hall, 2006), xxii.
  2. Ibid., 8.
  3. Ibid., 8.
  4. Ibid., 65.
  5. Ibid., 26.
  6. Ibid., 27.
  7. Ibid., 27.
  8. Ibid., 1.
  9. Ibid., 173.
  10. Ibid., 184.

About the Author

Claire Appiah

16 responses to “The Leadership Mystique Concept”

  1. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Claire for an insightful blog, as you shared the importance of leaders understanding “how cultural differences impact the way people function in diverse cultural environments.”That is the essence of building relationships within any organization because human needs are an important part of human nature.

    However, the Values, beliefs, and customs differ from country to country and even within group to group, but in general, all people have a few basic needs. As a leader, you must understand these needs because they can be powerful motivators.

    It’s all about human behavior. It’s about understanding the way people and organizations behave, about creating relationships, about building commitment, and about adapting your behavior to lead in a creative and motivating way.

    • Claire Appiah says:

      Thanks for replying to my blog and your insights on the necessity to form meaningful relationships in organizations and to discover the felt needs peculiar to a specific group or setting; this is key to the success of any cross-cultural ministry.
      I think one of the values of Leadership Mystique, is Kets de Vries’ main objective to bring “the person” back into the organization in a study of leadership. That is, in terms of who the person really is at their core. Organizations cannot exist in a vacuum—cannot exist apart from the strengths and weaknesses, perceptions, cultural influences, experiences and histories of the persons leading them. The author is correct in his discussion that understanding the human dynamics that come into play in leadership and organizations in critical to understanding how they function.

  2. Claire I love how you bring in Collins, Friedman, and Hirschman into your blog. Well done! I see a theme as well….Level 5…differentiated…etc. You mention the concept of “mussel syndrome” in relation to Hirschman. Can you please break that down a bit more? I think I understand what you are getting at, but I am wondering about the play between Hirschman’s “loyalty” and Kets de Vries, “mussel syndrome.”

    • Claire Appiah says:

      Hi Aaron,
      Thanks for replying to my blog. Let me see if I can make sense of the connection between Kets de Vries and Hirschman.
      Kets de Vries introduces the concept of the “Mussel Syndrome” characterizing, a vast amount of people who are adamant in their resistance to change and like the mollusk they are complacent with being cemented in place. He indicates that the “Mussel Syndrome” is very common in organizational settings where leaders hold on to antiquated ideas and stop listening to their customers and advisors. This mindset often has devastating consequences for organizations and firms because it leads to a decline in quality of product and service, financial credibility, and possibly a transition from success to failure. Hirschman claims that when a company or organization succumbs to this state of affairs in deterioration, the general reaction of customers or members is to exercise their options related to exit, voice, or loyalty. I hope this helps to clarify this very simple point.

  3. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    You said:
    “His focus is on the internal, subjective core of the individual and the individual’s interpersonal experience in social settings.” This is why I really enjoy Kets de Vries and his exactness on the true heart of a leader.

    What do you believe, after Collins, Hirschman, and Kets de Vries, is the healthiest “persona” for a leader? A pastor? We agree that character trumps charisma, but do you see some key components that members of our LGP need to work toward?


    • Claire Appiah says:

      Thanks for these questions to ponder.
      Informed by the scholarship of Collins, Hirschman, and Kets de Vries, I think the healthiest “persona” for a leader to project is one that encompasses:
      Integrity; trustworthiness; approachability; emotional and cultural intelligence; social, analytical, and innovative skills; self-differentiation; and clarity, focus, tenacity, and decisiveness in executing goals/objectives. The same will hold true in a pastoral context, except the pastor has the additional responsibility of caring for the souls of those being led in accordance with a particular religious tradition.
      I think Collins hit the nail on the head in inspiring readers/leaders to aspire to doing great work. Sometimes we in LGP may forget that it is God who has endowed us with His greatness for His glory, and He takes responsibility for empowering us to fulfill our ordained mission. I am really moved by Collins’ statement, “Our work and our life move toward greatness by creating something of intrinsic value that makes a contribution. Knowing that our short time here on earth has been well spent and that it mattered, gives meaning to life.” I believe we are to leave a legacy of greatness for posterity.

  4. Aaron Cole says:


    Great blog, I really enjoyed how you compared and contrasted this book with others we have read this semester. I especially liked the comparison with Jim Collins. You stated: “I found the list identifying global leadership abilities to be quite insightful”. Which ability did you find most nessasary to a leader?


    • Claire Appiah says:

      In the list of characteristics and abilities useful to leaders working cross-culturally, I found the “interest in and understanding of how cultural differences affect the way people function” (p184), to be the most critical to a leader. That is foundational for effective, non-judgmental communication and interaction, as well as, establishing authentic relational bonds. Second to that would be adaptability to new situations and the ability to work well with multicultural teams.

  5. Kevin Norwood says:


    Thanks for bringing your insight from all the books that we have taken in this semester.

    What is the greatest lesson you have learned about how cultural difference impact us? What is the thing that has been a turning point or an ah ha moment?


    • Claire Appiah says:

      I believe the greatest lesson I have learned about how cultural differences impact us, is in the area of spiritual belief systems and ideologies which influence societal norms and behaviors that are in stark contrast to western traditions and ways of thinking. Perhaps, the thing that has been a turning point or “ah ha” moment is making the connection with the anthropological literature on familial customs, structures, and kinship ties during my tours of sub-Saharan Africa.

  6. mm Marc Andresen says:


    As usual you have the best book summaries and I always learn more about and from our books reading your blogs.

    You wrote, “Everyone carries cultural stereotypes in their mind which should be eradicated when they are exposed because there is no tolerance for ethnocentricity in global organizations.”

    In your experiences of other cultures, what stereotypes about Americans have you encountered? (I ask because as I imagine working with international students, I would like to be aware of the stereotypes others have about us/me.

    • Claire Appiah says:

      I don’t think the caricature of Americans is nearly as bad as it used to be in former times. Due to the effects of globalization, more people have direct or indirect exposure to American culture through travel and the extensive reach of all forms of media globally where the real America is portrayed. But, it had generally been construed that Americans have a supercilious, arrogant, ethnocentric concept of other nations, especially in the developing world. You know, we being the greatest country on the planet socially, politically, economically, and technologically. We have been great in military might and power, political conquests and territorial acquisitions, scientific breakthroughs and advancements, high standards of living etc.
      But, nowadays with the speed that news travels, the entire world is increasingly seeing America up close and personal. The good, the bad, and the ugly. There are far less misconceptions around that we all live the life of the rich and famous and are great philanthropists; that we are all living the American dream. I suspect that the vast majority of the students you will be encountering will have concepts of Americans closer to our own experiential reality. But, I have to caution you that people of color the world over, consciously or unconsciously view Caucasians as superior to themselves and tend to idolize them.

      • mm Marc Andresen says:


        Your last sentence is shocking – people around the world think Caucasians as superior? I fear that may be because Caucasians have communicated that arrogance in some way.. But we know this isn’t true.

        Part of my task is to make sure our community does not allow this untruth.

  7. Pablo Morales says:

    As always, you presented a great summary of the book. I particularly liked your correlation with Collins and Friedman. I am curious… What are some of the aspects of the book that you did not agree with?

    • Claire Appiah says:

      The problem I have with the social sciences in general is the categorization and labelling of people as an identity marker of who they are in essence; then being unsuccessful in extricating them from the boxes they have placed them in. The Bible says, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” People live out the labels given them. People used to report to me in the Probation Dept and say such things as, “I’m bipolar so I can’t…, or I’m paranoid schizophrenic so I can’t…, or I’m an alcoholic/addict so I can’t…, or I’m developmentally challenged, so I can’t… In other words, social scientists and the world at large have a perception of humankind at variance with God’s perception of His human creatures as vividly spelled out throughout the Bible. People need to confess the same things about themselves as God does.
      Nevertheless, after some contemplation over the last few hours, I have come to appreciate, understand and accept Kets de Vries’ study of the subjective, shadow side of the mind. He refers to “A self so private that even we ourselves may know it only slightly” p.65. Initially, I didn’t see how this could be proven. Then I began to reflect on the self-image/self-perception that my former probationers had of themselves. I recalled that in decades of this kind of work, there was not one single person who ever admitted guilt to the heinous crime of violating a child. Legally they were formerly labelled as “mentally disordered sex offenders” and were sentenced to life imprisonment because they were considered untreatable. Now they are called “child molesters,” required to undergo some therapy, and for the most part allowed to remain in society.

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