One thing that I know about myself is that when teaching material gets too dense, technical or thick, I find myself tuning out. This is even true when it comes to topics that I am interested in, like leadership studies!
As I approached The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise by Manred Kets de Vries, I was concerned that this would be the case with this book as well. Kets de Vries is known to use a psychoanalytic perspective and “clinical paradigm”for organizational and business leadership. He is an academic, a prolific speaker and management writer. With all of this as background, one reviewer writes, “In The Leadership Mystique, Kets de Vries sets out to make the perspective he has helped define more accessible for a less sophisticated audience.”
I would count myself as part of that “less sophisticated audience.” The good news is that there are a few handholds for the lay reader who is trying to grasp meaning in this book. One is the use of question boxes and short quizzes. He will often follow up a teaching passage with questions like “what are your strongest competencies?”and then he offers a quiz of some kind with an explanation of the results. A wide variety of these self-assessments are included throughout the book and these are his teaching tool to encourage leaders to develop self-knowledge.
In an interview in the Harvard Business Review, Kets de Vries writes, “The first thing I look for is emotional intelligence—basically, how self-reflective is the person? Of course, emotional intelligence involves a lot more than just being introspective. It also involves what I call the teddy bear factor: Do people feel comfortable with you? Do they want to be close to you? An emotionally intelligent leader also knows how to single people out and say, “Hey, Deborah, you’re special. I’ve looked a long time for you, and I really want you to be part of my team.” In general, emotionally intelligent leaders tend to make better team players, and they are more effective at motivating themselves and others.”
This focus on a leader being self-aware and having emotional intelligence is the topic of the second chapter of the book and this was a second handhold for me as well. Some of the management and corporate leadership material didn’t translate as well for me, but this portion about knowing oneself and developing oneself ring true. This dovetails with our reading of Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve and the idea of self-differentiation, which involves emotional maturity and self-knowledge.
One strength of this book is in the stories that he tells and the examples that he gives. Kets de Vries is a skilled writer who sprinkles anecdotes and illustrations throughout. It is this kind of parabolic teaching that helps keep the readers’ attention, and really illuminates the point.
My challenge in thinking about applying this sort of material to my own church context, is that I don’t want to overwhelm people, or come across as arrogant or a “know-it-all”. One organization that is highlighted in the book is described as being led “by seagulls—that is, people who flew in, ate, made loud noises, shat on everybody, and flew off again.” The notion of emotional intelligence, reading the room, assuming the best about the people involved, and doing it all for the greater good of others is so core for pastoral leadership. It is for this reason, that a book like this can help form a skeleton, or background, but isn’t meant to really be seen directly by others.
Fortunately, Kets de Vries’ use of stories is a third handhold for the reader and it is part of what makes this book useful. Rather than acting like a seagull, self-important, flapping the wings and showing everybody up, stories are openings and a form of subtle leadership that invites further relationship, inquiry and growth.
Some of the practices and insights that are included in this book will be helpful to many leaders, especially those in highly corporate cultures, or who want to use a more psychoanalytical approach for leading self and others. For myself, this book is simply another chance to learn from an expert and attempt to apply some lessons for my own ministry.
Interactive learning is fun and keeps people’s attention. Emotional intelligence is sticky and holds people together. Stories are subtle, they creep in through the crack in the door and have a big impact.
Kets de Vries uses a lot of quote throughout this book, especially at the beginning of each chapter or section. I will end with this one: “the sweaty players in the game of life always have more fun than the supercilious spectators.” My goal in reading, study and learning is always to take these things I am learning and step with them back out into the game of life. To let all of who I am and what God is doing inside of me, to be a blessing for others, that they may also be encouraged for their own journeys and growth.
Jeffrey J. Axelbank, “Psychoanalytic Organizational Psychology Lite,” Human Relations (March 1, 2003): 370, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0018726703563009?journalCode=huma.
Manfred Kets de Vries, “Putting Leaders On the Couch,” interview by Diane Coutu, Harvard Business Review, January 2004, https://hbr.org/2004/01/putting-leaders-on-the-couch.