Posted by: Ornella Farrugia
on Thu 13 Dec

At November’s Innovation Day, we welcomed Dr Gerardo Abreu Pederzini, Lecturer in HRM/Organisational Behaviour at Kent Business School.

‘Psychoanalysis’, and its founding father Sigmund Freud, generate mixed feelings when mentioned.
Popular culture has played a strong part in what many of us associate with Freudian theory, with theorists taking apart these early psychological ideas providing criticisms and countertheories. However, research faculties and modern day theorists have shown that psychoanalysis can be useful within the workplace and our understanding of leadership.

So, how are psychoanalysis and leadership linked?

Our first leaders define our expectations. Work from Dr Gerardo A. Pederzini from Kent Business School has quite literally taken the role of leadership back to the psychoanalytic couch to explore its origins, which begin with the primary care giver of the individual. Freud’s theory states that we construct our ideas of what a leader should be, based on the first leaders we had as children: our parents or guardians.

We carry early conflicts as baggage. As children we are constantly told what to do and what not to do, carving ideas and securing our morals within us. To compensate for the hostility we receive, we develop a healthy amount of narcissism to believe in ourselves and survive in this world. Occasionally, we decide we do not want to follow these ‘leaders’ and do things our own way. What we often do not realise is how much these behaviours from early childhood feed into the way we treat our employees.

We transfer our feelings onto a new leader. Dr Pederzini draws on Freud’s idea that there are four ‘fantasies’ we look for in a manager or leader which will affect how we relate to them.

  1. Accessibility – How easy is it to approach them?
  2. Caring – Do they really care about us?
  3. Legitimate – Do they have the right skills and knowledge to manage us?
  4. Power - Do they have the power and influence to lead us?

Often, previous experience with another leader with similar characteristics would influence our decisions resulting in transference of these feelings towards the new leader. We turn to our memory to guide how we interact with our managers for ‘Fantasy Fulfilment’ which is not something we are conscious we are doing.

Now what should we do about it?

Understand the deepest motivations of your colleagues and employees. Psychoanalysis shows us that the way we lead and the way we feel is often not so much about what is happening today, but about what happened many years ago. By listening to each other we can learn so much about the deepest motivations of our colleagues.

Find out what your team want from you. There is often a disconnect between what people say they want and what they really want. We need to be careful when talking about what we think our employees want from us, to not superimpose our own ideas. It is important to note social and demographical differences, accepting that one size does not fit all.

Accept vulnerability. Accept that you may not have the answer or may not be what the employee is looking for. As a leader, you are likely carrying your own baggage from your interpretation of what a leader must be but being aware of this can only add to your skill set. While encouraging your employees to develop the skill of self-reflection, take some time out and do this for yourself also.

These are just some key highlights taken from November’s Innovation Day. Each month, clients of the Innovation Programmes receive a full ACT report, capturing the guest expert’s research, the implications and next steps for leaders to apply back in their team and organisation.

Next month, clients will explore how we can reflect upon our own leadership practice and learn from the insight of previous generations. For more information, please view the Innovation Day page.

Sources: Abreu Pederzini, G. (2018) ‘Taking Leadership Back to the Couch: Psychoanalysis and Organisations Today’, KnowledgeBrief Innovation Day Presentation, 14 November.

While encouraging your employees to develop the skill of self-reflection, take some time out and do this for yourself also.

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