Remember, it is the secret force hidden deep within us that manipulates our strings; there lies the voice of persuasion, there the very life, there, we might even say, is the man himself. (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, quoted in Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries and Danny Miller, The Neurotic Organization, Diagnosing and Revitalizing Unhealthy Companies, Harper Business, 1990, p.1)
Surely, given our cultural unconscious bias against the unconscious, we are now more able to discern the degree to which our executives (both men and women) are applicants/candidates whose need for control will negatively impact both their prospective hires/workers and the culture of their prospective organization.
Domination, the “driver,” type A personalities, traditionally considered not only appropriate but actually preferential candidates for leadership given their penchant for aggressive, energetic, visionary and charismatic qualities leave many workers and organizations at serious risk of self-sabotage. Leaning excessively on any single archetype of masculinity, especially that of the “alpha” male, is not only restrictive of options among hiring agents, but more importantly, limits the capacity of many organizations to function in a healthy manner. Healthy, here, embraces respectful, integrous, authentic, and open relationships and the exercise of power at all levels of any organizational structure.
Let’s survey some of the neurotic organizations, and the potential risk that might attend to the history of hiring practices in those organizations. These categories of the neurotic organization are borrowed from The Neurotic Organization (cited above)
· The “dramatic organization, with its aggressive leaders, its risk-embracing growth strategies and highly leveraged capital structure (op. cit. p. vii)
· The paranoid organization (which) spends so much time tracking and fighting its enemies that it neglects to evolve a concerted strategy to cater to its customers…Executives devote(d) more attention to politicking, defensive legal manoeuvres, golden parachutes, and proxy fights than to the substance of corporate strategies. As this atmosphere of suspicion took hold, fight and flight considerations began to supercede manufacturing and marketing strategy. (op. cit. p. viii)
· The depressive firm, an unresponsive, rigid organization that is frequently found in besieged or dying industries…(A)ttitudes of passivity, pessimism and helplessness prevail." (op. cit. p.viii)
If it is reasonable and cogent to ascribe unconscious motives of greed, fear and oppression respectively to the above three types of organizations, then this quote, from the above text can be expected to apply:
The goals and values of managers, the way they instill ideals and meaning into their organizations, and their use of cultural rituals are all extremely important to corporate success. (op.cit. p.x)
And from the Preface: Freud’s often-cited dictum about the dream of being the “royal road to the unconscious” has, perhaps, a wider applicability than he intended…The predominant fantasies, beliefs, and aspirations of key decision makers seem so pervasively to influence the nature of their organizations. Of course, we are referring here not to fantasies of the whimsical, fleeting sort but to those that come to characterize one’s “internal theatre.” They compose one’s picture of the world, which underlies and ultimately determines so much of behaviour and which comes to broadly influence, even epitomize, what is often called ‘character’ or ‘personality.’ (ibid, p.xi)
If we accept the notion that organizations reflect the character/world view/personality of their leaders, then a look at the nuanced neuroses of their executives merit careful scrutiny. Kets de Vries and Miller have chosen five neurotic styles that relate to the five most dysfunctional corporations:
Paranoid, compulsive, dramatic, depressive and schizoid.
Without resorting to, or depending on a clinical definition of each of these classifications, it is significant to observe that each of these “types” are unlikely to be ferreted out from most profiling in executive hiring practices. Privacy, and the restricted right to ‘invade’ the private lives of potential and prospective leaders, renders the executive search process replete with minefields of “guessing,” “intuition,” “comparative” strengths and weaknesses, on the part of the hiring agents. Many “personality tests” are fraught with questions allegedly seeking “honest” answers, as a way to trap candidates into such danger zones as “difficult to manage”..,if candidate answers disclosed a degree of independence, creativity and courage that threatened those in power.
In the education system, at the secondary and post secondary level, as well as in the private corporate sector, and in the church, having served approximately fifty supervisors, I have noted a common denominator among male leaders: Many need the position of power and seek to protect their status through compliance with a higher authority who mandates them not to bring problems to those higher offices. Fear of public “trouble” regardless of how that “trouble” might surface and the political implications of that trouble, avoidance of turbulence, public exposure to deficits in process, production, and personality defects must be avoided at all costs. And in the event of such turbulence, challenging the rules and regulations, first of a public relations kind, and also of something determined as “ethical” malfeasance, highly superficial investigations, often if not always without due process, lead to quick decisions of “elimination of the problem.”
It was a Russian professor of Comparative Education in a Canadian university who taught a graduate education class how the Russians solved problems: by elimination. He, of course, was ridiculing his former nation. And yet, there is copious evidence that “elimination” of any and all problems, is the preferred path of many leaders, who themselves are determined to protect themselves, preserve their hold on power and eliminate the problem. And, after decades of this kind of management, in so many organizations, many have come to consider as “normal” this approach to any emergent problem.
The obvious risks to such an approach are many. The avoidance of the potential underlying “issues” inherent in the situation, and the need to address them, is only one. The impunity of failed orientation (or worse, completely absent orientation), the failure or omission of appropriate professional supervision and support, as well as the fear of counter-observations that would erode political support for the leaders are obvious influencers in how “problems” within organizations are addressed. The characterization of a candidate as a “tool” to be impulsively injected into a situation where previous conflict and tension, without due regard for the appropriate selection, orientation and supervision, is another of the reductionistic approaches infecting organizations in which leaders reactively operate in their own professional, (or worse private) interests.
When I worked in the United States, I noted the prevalence of military discipline methods/words/carrots/sticks among American families. Classical conditioning, perhaps appropriate, (actually that is very doubtful) in a military setting in boot camp, and clearly appropriate in dog training settings, has no place as the sole approach to relationships between parents and children. And we have all travelled through a parent-child tunnel, some of them filled with light, others not so much.
Each of us has experienced some degree of “control” in our early childhood. And
the degree to which we have been bound have analogous relevance to the managerial situations in all workplaces. “(Family) therapists have shown that family interactions often involve three destructive types of relationships of control:
1) Superiors can bind their subordinates to the point of smothering their initiative, constraining their growth and essentially making them puppets
2) Superiors can have the subordinate act as a proxy, serving as one who provide vicarious thrills and carries out dangerous and unacceptable missions for the boss.
3) The expelling mode occurs when the superior takes no interest in his employees, offering them no guidance, support or security.” (Op. cit. p. 9)
Given that each of us has personal experience with one or more of these destructive types of relationships at home, we will bring those memories, and those wounds into our adult lives. This pertains to us as workers as it also does to those in positions of supervision. And, if and when we carry over these experiences into completely different situations, we engage in what is common known as transference.*
Without attempting to stomp through the swamp of specific neuroses, we each have fears, insecurities, and vulnerabilities that we would prefer neither define us nor compromise our opportunities to be effective and relevant as individuals, as employees, as partners and certainly as parents. It is the masculine attachment to our mask, and our many strategic and tactical moves to both develop that mask, and to sharpen our skill in deploying that mask, as if it were our identity, that we all can address, both deliberately and inadvertently. To be able and to will to discern when we are ‘covering’ up our fear, our self-loathing, our inadequacy, and our insecurity, and then to seek and to find those places and people where it is safe to “open” our private vault of the unconscious is essential to our very healthy existence. This dynamic is also essential to the developing health of our organizations.
And it is especially important that this “mask” versus “ego” tension be explored by healthy educators, healthy administrators, and healthy parents, half of whom are men.
Through literature, of course, we are able to probe our perspective on the hidden motivations of a character, as well as the abusive imposition of power that binds, expels, and/or proxies others. These occasions merit enlightened and critical reflection by all of the language teachers in the country. They also merit much more dedicated consideration by those who are empowered to select teaching faculties. Performance, as if it were a matter of charisma and entertainment along with the potential subsuming of the complexities of intellectual discernment and judgement, merits open discussion among educational leadership.
However, in a corporate, medical, legal, accounting and healthcare sector in which measureable performance objectives dominate, in a world view and ethical/moral hierarchy that supports the empirical, humans (including but not restricted to men) have become “means” to the “ends” of the organization. Objectively valuing both leadership and performance by numbers of clients, dollars, (the bigger, the better)
misses many of the intricate, complex and hidden forces that generate those numbers.
And masculine leaders, executives, who have persistently resisted opening that vault of our “hearts” even to a spouse, can be traced to the emergency rooms of our hospitals, to the pubs and bars of our trendy districts, and to the court and board rooms of our divorce courts. It is not only men who suffer from our own repression; women are also in danger of a similar repression. However, this piece is addressed primarily to the many men, some of whom I had both the privilege and the sentence to serve.
Selecting for leadership those men who have “no enemies” is a dynamic that recurs far too often. Like emotional, intellectual and energetic turtles, these men, often if not always, have swum like pollywogs through the rivers and the creeks of their lives.
Avoiding being “caught” by the dazzle of a distracting lure, they have found various ways to survive, without attracting criticism, without embarrassing their supervisors, and without being entangled in the weeds or under a rock. Also selecting those whose ambition and energy “cover” their shy and much more serious and private natures, risks sabotaging both the candidate and the hiring agent/employer. The tendency to rely on the most sophisticated algorithms, and even eventually AI, it says here, runs the risk of sabotaging more departments to the hidden agendas and the hidden fears of those who are “in charge”.
Detecting patterns of fears, insecurities, traumas, and then beginning to appreciate how those fears make positive contributions to each of us, while not resolving all of the complex human relationships inside families and organizations, would serve to open the possibility of more authentic individual responses, in all situations, and also offer the potential of enhanced clarity in tense situations. We all need to come to a place where our insecurities are an integral part of our strengths, not a guarantee of our disposability.
To the extent that we keep our feelings, our insights, our fears and vulnerabilities interred in the vault of our own making, encouraged and rewarded for that internment by a culture afraid to unlock that vault, we risk our own health (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, and relational). And to a similar extent, we also participate in a drama that seeks to avoid drama at all costs, knowing as we do, that such avoidance only imposes additional locks and seals on our personal and cultural vaults.
Men, especially, although not exclusively, risk clinging to our vault longer and more rigidly than our female partners and co-workers. Those women are not “superior” to us; they are merely a little more in touch with their own personal truth, even if they too have had to repress much of it, in their disciplined efforts to “fit” into the masculine culture.
*Transference occurs when an individual, usually unconsciously, treats a current relationship as though it were an important relationship from the past. (Op. cit. p. 8)