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.” 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.” 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.”
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.” 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.” The next step is “learning how to acknowledge and deal with the whole spectrum of feelings we experience.” The third step is “learning to recognize and deal with the emotions of others.” 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.” 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.”
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.”
- Manfred Kets de Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise (Harlow, England: Prentice Hall, 2006), xxii.
- Ibid., 8.
- Ibid., 8.
- Ibid., 65.
- Ibid., 26.
- Ibid., 27.
- Ibid., 27.
- Ibid., 1.
- Ibid., 173.
- Ibid., 184.