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

Three Handles to Hold Onto

Written by: on November 15, 2018

The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself.”[1]

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”[2]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.”[3]

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?”[4]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.”[5]

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.”[6]  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.”[7]  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.

[1]Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise, 2nd ed (Harlow, England ; New York: Prentice Hall/Financial Times, 2006). xvii.

[2]Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise, 2nd ed (Harlow, England ; New York: Prentice Hall/Financial Times, 2006). xix.

[3]Jeffrey J. Axelbank, “Psychoanalytic Organizational Psychology Lite,” Human Relations (March 1, 2003): 370,

[4]Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise, 2nd ed (Harlow, England ; New York: Prentice Hall/Financial Times, 2006). 171.

[5]Manfred Kets de Vries, “Putting Leaders On the Couch,” interview by Diane Coutu, Harvard Business Review, January 2004,

[6]Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise, 2nd ed (Harlow, England ; New York: Prentice Hall/Financial Times, 2006). 118.

[7]Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise, 2nd ed (Harlow, England ; New York: Prentice Hall/Financial Times, 2006). 1.

About the Author

Dave Watermulder

9 responses to “Three Handles to Hold Onto”

  1. Greg says:

    Dave. I fell over laughing at the seagull leadership analogy…I really need to read this book….Dave you a thinker, an active player and one that sensitive to cultural shifts that a leader needs to have in this day. I am glad you are challenged by this book and bring it to your own context.

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Dave,

    You may be from a “less sophisticated audience” but by no means are you from a less intelligent one! You are brilliant my friend, so please keep shining, both with your smile and with your brain.

    Jenn included this quote in her Blog this week and it is for us all, “It is no small comfort to me to know that God has called me to my work, putting me where I am and as I am. I have not sought the position, and I dare not leave it. He knows why He places me here-whether to do, or learn, or suffer.” –Hudson Taylor, 1899

    Keep the faith and Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Excellent post, Dave!

    I was surprised by the applicatory way that Kets De Vries presented his text. I felt like I was in the presence of a convincing pastor – I was convicted, challenged and changed by his transparency and practical resources.

    Many academic texts have a tendency to tease the mind and leave the hands and feet stagnant; however, Kets De Vries warns readers from the very beginning, “The failure factor in leadership isn’t a comfortable topic. Not everyone will like what I have to say, especially when I take aim at certain myths about leadership and point out the human limitations of becoming a leader” (Kets De Vries 2006, 7). Needless to say, this was not a warm and fuzzy assignment. It was more like a good kick in the right direction. What leadership myth did you find debunked the most? Where you surprised by any of the self-assessment tests results in the book?

    • Dave Watermulder says:

      Thanks, Colleen,
      I think you’ve described it correctly– this isn’t a warm and fuzzy read, but maybe a good kick in the right direction! Ha!

  4. mm Dan Kreiss says:


    Thanks for your post and your efforts to distill the content of this book into a form that is useful to you. I have met a significant number of pastors who lacked much of the emotional intelligence that I think De Vries was getting at with this book. I think you are right in stating that it is probably written for the corporate executive but there are certainly some important points that could or should be considered by anyone in the pastorate. Thanks for highlighting your handles as I think those will translate well to others in ministry who don’t see themselves as part of the corporate world.

  5. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Thank you for an insightful blog. I laugh a bit when
    you write that you tune out with the clinical and psychoanalytical stuff because that’s when I tune IN. That’s what makes this learning so rich – we all come from different paradigms and can learn from each other. I’m wondering how comfortable you are with all the emphasis on self reflection and awareness?

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