Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Psychodynamic Approach

Psychodynamic Approach

o    Ernest L. Stech brings together several different attempts to apply psychoanalytic theories to social relationships, including leadership.

o    This approach consists of bits and pieces borrowed from a number of scholars and practitioners.

·         The psychodynamic approach to  leadership developed from the methods dealing with emotionally disturbed  individuals  and  from  psychological  theories  of  personality  development.  The psychodynamic  approach  to  leadership  has  its  roots  in  Sigmund  Freud´s  (1938)    development  of psychoanalysis.  Carl  Jung,  one  of  Freud´s  well-known  disciples,  developed  his  own  body  of psychology, which  is  well accepted  even  today,   whereas  classical  psychoanalysis  has  found  less acceptance in recent years (Bennet 1983).  Maslow (1962, 1971) and Rogers  (1961)  could maybe be mentioned here as humanistic psychologists to represent the psychological theory of personality development.    A  leading  proponent  to  psychodynamic  approach  has  been  Abraham  Zalenick (1977). At the moment the most well-known expert in this area is certainly Manfred Kets de Vries (2001). One branch of psychodynamic theory is called psychohistory, which attempts to explain the behavior of famous historical figures (see eg. Kets de Vries 1999).

·         The  psychodynamic  approach  places  emphasis  on  leaders  obtaining  insight  into  their  personality characteristics  and  understanding  the  responses  of  subordinates,  based  on  their  personalities. Leaders should also encourage work group members to gain insight into  their own personalities so that  they  could  understand  their  reactions  to  the  leader  and  each  other.  Important  concepts  in psychodynamic approach to leadership include e.g. the family of origin,  individuation, dependence and independence, regression and the shadow self.  These concepts come from psychoanalysis and psychiatry and can sometimes be abstruse and not easily understood. That  is the reason that there has been attempts to make psychodynamic theory more accessible.

o    There are several fundamental propositions underlying this approach.

·         Leaders are more effective when they have an insight into their own psychological makeup.

·         Leaders are more effective when they understand the psychological makeup of their subordinates.

·         This approach makes no assumptions about personality characteristics or styles. It emphasizes that a leader should have an insight into his or her emotional responses and habitual patters of behavior. An authoritarian leader, as an example, can be effective  if she understands that her own behaviors arise from influences in the past. It is also better if the leader also has an understanding how their behaviors result in different responses.

·         An important assumption is that the personality characteristics of individuals are deeply ingrained and virtually impossible to change. The key is acceptance of one's own personality  feature and quirks and the understanding and acceptance of features and quirks of others.



o    The emergence of this approach has its roots in the works of Sigmund Freud, 1938. He was followed by Carl Jung who developed the Jungian psychology.

o    The roots are in the individual and family.

o    Our first experience of leadership was when we were born. Mom and dad were our leaders.

o    Based on the childhood experiences, some people respond and respect authority figures, others rebel.

o    Abraham Zaleznik (1977), a management professor at Harvard is a leading proponent of this approach. He is also behind much of the work on the charismatic leadership theory.



Important Concepts in the Psychodynamic approach

o    Family of Origin

·         Underlies any understanding of the behavior of adults.

·         Each of us begins our life into a family of two parents and one or more children (Today, there are many more single parent homes)

·         The child begins life as a very self centered being, more animal than human.

·         The parents role in the early infancy is to meet the child's needs.

·         In one sense the parent has control over the child, but the child also has an equal degree of control.

·         Such total dependency can take place in leadership situations. The leader takes total responsibility for the subordinates (Paternalistic Management"

o    Maturation or individualization

·         The child becomes more independent of the parents with time. Though the child drifts away from the parental home, they still carry a parent inside  "Parent Within" or conscience that is constantly supervising, Analyzing, or judging.

·         The individualization is the process of a child as they step into adolescence, they  become unique and different from each parent. A child o the other hand is attached to their parent with a psychological umbilical cord.

·         Two key issues in the individualization process.

§  The relationship to authority figures.

·         Highly authoritarian parent can induce either a very submissive or very resistant attitude in a child.

·         A Laissez-Faire can create a confused child who has trouble defining boundaries and limits.

·         Responses to authority figures just happen. They are not rational.

§  Intimacy and openness

·         Parents range along a continuum of kindness, tenderness, and nurturance.

·         As an adult, one may continue the style of the parent or rebel and choose the opposite.

·         A nurturing leader can produce feelings of warmth and even love in a subordinate.

o    Dependence and Independence

·         A leader's style results from the models of leadership exhibited by parents, teachers, coaches, and other adults during the maturation process.

·         Followers are more likely to react to an authoritarian leaders. Psychodynamic ally, an individual may react in a

§  Dependent - Self explanatory.

§  Counter dependent - rebelliousness, rejecting directives.

§  Independent  manner - The subordinate assesses leadership attempts and looking at the situation objectively. The team member decides if the directive is ethical, reasonable, practical, etc.

o    Repression and shadow self

·         This approach relies on the "Depth Psychology" or subconscious. Most other leadership theories are based on the behavior or conscious psychology.

·         Repression: The concept of repression is putting in deep recesses of the mid those thoughts and feelings that are not deemed acceptable by society.

·         Shallow: Introduced by Jungian psychology. The shadow self is part of the personality that is unacceptable and consciously denied existence or expression. The shadow self is often evident to others although denied by the self. The only was in which we can be aware of our shadow self is to solicit perceptions of ourselves from others.

o    Archetypes

·         This is a strong pattern in the human psyche that persists over time. It is a template of human behavior and belief.

·         Pearson (1989, 1991) setup 6 archetypes. Pearson asserts that the archetypes are not encountered in a straight line or by everyone. People can get stuck in one of the archetypes. Most people cycle back and forth.

§  Innocent

·         Exists before the journey

§  Orphan

·         Moves out of the home/comfortable territory into the world.

§  Martyr

·         Devotes time and energy to the welfare of others.

§  Wanderer

·         Very independent

§  Warrior

·         Goes out into battle such as the professional on the road to success in today's terms.

§  Magician

·         This is not always attained by individuals.


Warrior Leader

Magician Leader

Seeks success for self

Seeks success for the team

Want to be seen as strong and aggressive

Wants to be seen as solid and centered

Destroys and conquers competitors

Motivated by competition. Adapts ideas from them.

Worries about and denies failure

Learns from failure; moves on.

Emotionally neutral

Celebrates successes;  Grieves failures.

Works for status and Money

Work is it own reward

Accumulates money and resources

Believes there is enough for everyone; make do with the minimum.


·         The warrior and the magician archetypes are concerned with leadership.

§  The warrior is the stereotype embodying the goals of strength and effectiveness. Hen faced with danger, the warrior attacks. The wanderer flees, and the martyr sacrifice self for others.  The warrior is competitive and goal oriented. The warrior imposes his/her will on others. The warrior is controlled (poker face) and repress most feelings and works for material reward. The warrior want to be seen as confident and respected.

§  The magician is the stereotype. It represents the notion of changing the lesser into the better. It is about transformational. Someone in the magician mode has gone beyond the aggressive and competitive mode of the warrior. They establish mutuality in the relationship with subordinates. The magician accepts and understands emotional responses. They strive to achieve the team goals through the rule, regulations and norms of an organization. Monetary or status gains are secondary. This archetype was divided into two types by Maslow

·         D-Motivation (Deficit): A person who does not have the money, status, resources, or power and is motivated to get them.

·         B-Motivation (Being): This person as all of the above and is freed to be concerned about others, the team, and the organization.


Relational Analysis

o    A popular psychodynamic model created by Eric Berne (1961). There are 3 ego states:

·         The Parent :

§  Critical - Judgmental, faultfinding, and strict.

§  Nurturing - Kind, gentle, and loving.

·         The Child :

§  Playful: Adaptive and dependent.

§  Rebellious: Counter dependence subordinate.

·         The Adult : As people mature, they operate out of this adult ego state. This is the ability to do reality testing. People operating out of the adult state, make tentative decisions, and use trial and error to find out hat to do. It also incorporates both the Child and Parent ego states when needed.

o    Cathecting: psychodynamic technical term. This means that each person cathects or pulls out the other person matching response pattern. A leader who behaves in a parent ego, will cause a subordinate to behave in child ego and vice versa.

o    A good leader will make every effort to operate out the adult ego state. The leader's responsibility in this approach is to bring issues out into the open so that they can be discussed.




How does the Psychodynamic theory work?

o    It is a life long endeavor.

o    There are many books, seminars, workshops on the subject.

o    A self assessment by Pearson helps the individual determine which archetype predominates their life at the moment.

o    The basic principle is that a leader who understand their style is more effective. Even more important however, if the leader understands where their style came from (their origins).


The  psychodynamic  approach  brings  an  important  aspect  to  leadership  by  emphasizing  our  past

experiences,  unconsciousness,  feelings,  self-understanding  and  personality  types.  Also  the

transactions and the Cathecting process are important to remember.


The approach works because people become aware of each other types and thus the differences are brought into the open where people can discus them.



o    It emphasizes the relationship between the leader and the follower, a transaction between these two persons. It results in an analysis of the relationship  between them.

o    The universality of this approach. Presumably are applicable across cultures.

o    It emphasizes also the need for personal insight on the part of the leader and also the follower.

o    It discourages manipulative techniques of leadership. Effective leadership is based on self understanding and empathy.

o    It encourages the leader to pursue a course for personal growth and development.



o    This approach is based on clinical observations and treatment of persons with serious difficulties.

o    The subjective nature of the findings of clinical psychologists (also the cultural biases). Psychiatrists and their patients for the most part have been white, at least middle class, with a Judeo-Christian background.

o    Early work in psychodynamics was based on the traditional two-parent family origin. Divorce and remarriage create a set of complex relationships.

o    It does not take into account organizational factors.

o    It does not lend itself to training in any conventional sense.


Leadership instrument


There are a lot of psychological tests which you can use as a tool to improve your self-knowledge.

One of the most used ones  is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator based on Jung´s psychological types

(Kroeger and Thuesen 1992).  There are four dimensions of personality types, which are

extrovert  vs.  introvert,  sensor  vs.  intuitor,  feeler  vs.  thinker  and  perceiver  vs  judger.  As  a

result of these dimensions there are altogether 16 potential personality types. It can be very useful to

know  your  own  personality  type.  Sharing  the  leader’s  personality  type  and  those  of  the  team

members is assumed to improve understanding among the participants.


The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, ( is the most widely used instrument for helping members of organizations gain insights into their inner selves. There are some problems with this and other similar measures. The first is the idea of types. In the early history of psychology, researchers and theorists spent a great deal of effort in attempting to measure personality types. A type means that there are categories into which people can be successfully grouped, without a great deal of overlapping between groups. In fact, virtually every psychological scale that has been developed results in a bell-shaped curve of scores. Most scores are bunched near the mean or the median and there are fewer and fewer scores as you go up the scale to higher scores or down the scale to lower scores. This bell-shaped curve means that when you try to use the scores to make up non-overlapping groups you run into trouble. A second problem with types is the assumption that once you have placed an individual into a group, that individual has all of the characteristics you tend to attribute to the group and none of the characteristics that apply to members of other groups. We will see in the next lesson the problems this has created associated with the concepts of sex and gender. We need much more research showing that applying a Myers-Briggs type to an individual and to those he or she works with really results in their being better able to work successfully together.


Another assumption made with the Myers-Briggs test ( is that since the person taking the test is responding from their conscious mind, a low score in a certain area indicates that this area is a strong dynamic in the shadow self. This essentially means that an individual is really the opposite of what he or she thinks. Again, we need a lot more research before we can accept this principle at face value.

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