Issue 23: In This Issue

  • The Leader on The Couch
  • Social Intelligence

The Leader on the Couch

By Manfred Kets de Vries 

Manfred Kets de Vries has devoted his life to helping people create emotionally intelligent organizations because he believes that what differentiates the great companies of the world from the merely average ones is the level of emotional intelligence among their employees.

As a result of his roles as a management professor, consultant, leadership coach, psychotherapist and psychoanalyst, de Vries has had the opportunity for in-depth interactions with leaders that have provided him with a unique glimpse into their inner world. A glimpse that has revealed the interplay of personality and environment and unveiled the process of personal and organizational change.

Significantly, he has noted a clear and compelling connection between the personal objectives of the organization’s power holders and the objectives of the organization itself. The intra-psychic themes of the CEO often dictate the structure or priorities of the organization.

Functioning under Self-Deception

On first reflection, this doesn’t seem like a particularly critical element. However, we start to see where de Vries is heading in this book when he makes the statement that the apparently rational explanations for decisions in organizations often turn out to be fiction, rationalizations made after the fact to explain how intrapsychic themes were translated into reality.

His fundamental premise is that far too many leaders function under layers of self-deception, making decisions, reacting to behaviours in others and trying to manage people, all without a true understanding of the real driving factors in themselves and others.

His objective with ‘The Leader on the Couch’ is to help executives peel back these layers of self-deception to reveal how inner personality, largely hard wired since early childhood, affects the way in which we lead and manage others.

Saying Versus Doing

He notes that people around the world complain that there is a great discrepancy between what their leaders say and what their leaders do, and that discrepancy is grounded in leaders’ lack of awareness of their own psychological drivers and mood states - their “inner theater”.

That unawareness makes them prisoners of hidden forces that dictate their decisions and their behaviours. Leaders and followers alike will continue to send mixed and confusing messages as long as they are unaware of the content of their inner theater.

The book is divided into three parts:

  • Part One – Entering the Inner Theater of Leaders
  • Par Two – Changing Mindsets
  • Part Three – Understanding the Psychodynamics of Groups and Organizations
  • Part One - Entering the Inner Theater of Leaders

The six chapters of Part One describe the various personality prototypes that can be found in the workplace and focus on personality functioning and its consequences in organizational life.

It is important to note here that de Vries doesn’t just focus on leadership personality types but addresses the entire range of prototypes that can be found in a typical organization. His message is that a leader must not only understand his or her own personality functioning but must also be able to deal effectively with all of the other personalities that he or she leads.

To the extent that executives understand why people do what they do, how the shadow side of human behaviour manifests itself at work, and how people with different personality styles relate to each other, they can foster creativity and cooperation among their colleagues and subordinates.

The personality prototypes he presents are tools to help readers become more astute in understanding and helping people and are useful despite the generalizations that labeling relies on.

Part Two - Changing Mindsets

In the four chapters of Part Two, de Vries focuses on the educational ‘technology” needed to change the mindset of executives and discusses methods of intervention that can lead to transformational change.

The term “intervention” should have caught your attention here. De Vries notes that many leaders aren’t really good at listening and careful observation. Or reality-testing, for that matter. Instead, driven by forces of narcissism (not necessarily a bad word in de Vries’ terminology), they create their own reality, seeing only what they want to see.

Personal to Organizational Dysfunctions

Furthermore, they are not very open to change and instead of making an effort to change, they often stick with the status quo. Given the power that leaders wield, their personal dysfunctions become organizational dysfunctions.

De Vries attributes some very not-pretty consequences to this phenomenon: collusive interactions, unrealistic organizational ideals, toxic corporate cultures, neurotic organizations, faulty patterns of decision making, motivational problems, organizational alienation, and high employee turnover.

De Vries does point out the fact that leaders are always “on stage” at work makes change hard. Every move they make is carefully observed, analyzed, and discussed by colleagues and subordinates. And with that scrutiny, apparently innocuous actions can have dramatic consequences.

But in addition to overcoming a basic resistance to change, like most humans, leaders have to be swayed cognitively and emotionally as well as have the skills needed to bring about the desired change. It is not enough to intellectually appreciate the need for change – there has to be an emotional drive to accomplish it coupled with the skills required to make it happen.

The Need for ‘Intervention’

All together, this is a tall order for a lone individual to carry out by themselves. And this brings us back to the term ‘intervention’.

Through his work with one-on-one coaching, De Vries found that although he could help individuals accomplish more than they could on their own, something else was needed to create lasting, significant change in their behaviours. He found that if he could create a situation of high intensity and total involvement through the creation of a learning community, there was the possibility that the change process could be further accelerated.

De Vries created this intense learning community by combining some of the methods used in short-term dynamic psychotherapy with the interventions derived from group dynamics while adding concepts taken from organizational and leadership theory. The result is his workshop “The Challenge of Leadership”. However, it isn’t the intervention of choice for everyone and some people will prefer a more individualized approach.

The ‘Last Straw’

The significant message that de Vries is sending here, is that to achieve long lasting, significant change generally requires a powerful driving force. If it isn’t an ‘intervention’, it is often a ‘last straw’.

Surveys of people who have undergone major internal change confirm that a high level of unpleasant emotion exists in the period just prior to change, generally precipitated by a stressor such as family tensions, health problems, negative social sanctions, an accident, feelings of isolation leading to a sense of helplessness and insecurity, problem behaviour at work, distressing incidents happening to someone close, or basic daily hassles and frustrations.

Accepting the need for change is a necessary first step but generally people need a push in the form of something that can be later described as a focal event or a crisis. The metaphor of a last straw is appropriate here because it indicates if a person is prepared, if not actually ready, to take a decisive step, the triggering event can be minor.

Common Change Triggers

Looking back over the hundreds of executives that have gone through his change workshops, de Vries identifies a number of common themes or change-triggers:

  • Loss
  • Anxiety
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Symptomatology that reflects inner turmoil (eg habit disorders, sexual dysfunction, insomnia)
  • Developmental imbalance
  • Life imbalance
  • Questions about meaning
Six Challenges to Overcome

De Vries addresses the six challenges a leader must face in order to accomplish change:

  • Prepare for the journey – which means to ensure:
    • An appropriate level of motivation
    • A capacity to be open and responsive
    • The willingness for interpersonal connectedness
    • Sufficient emotional management skills
    • A degree of psychological mindedness
    • A capacity for introspection
    • An ability to respond to the observations of others
    • Flexibility
  • Identify the problem
  • Unhook false connections
  • Create a holding environment
  • Actively work on the problem
  • Consolidate the change

He then reviews three methods of facilitating the change: One-on-one coaching, short term psychotherapy, and group leadership coaching.

Part Three - Understand Psychodynamics of Groups …

The first two parts of the book focus on issues from an individual perspective. In Part Three, de Vries brings all of the elements together to examine their impact at an organizational level.

Most leaders today are thoroughly familiar with how difficult it can be to create change at an organizational level. De Vries’ message is that it is just as difficult at an individual level – especially if that individual is in a leadership position. And he makes a strong case that the majority of leaders need some form of outside intervention in order to accomplish it – and often just to recognize the need for it.

Solid Groundwork for Your Journey

Whether you decide on leadership coaching, change workshops or a go-it-alone approach, The Leader on the Couch will give you the ability to prepare for the journey as well as provide guidance along the way.

To purchase 'The Leader on the Couch: A Clinical Approach to Changing People and Organizations' click this link to get it from: 

Social Intelligence

by Daniel Goleman 

In 1995, Daniel Goleman’s ‘Emotional Intelligence’ rocketed to the top of the New York Times Best Seller list and stayed there for over a year. In Emotional Intelligence, the focus was on a crucial set of human capacities within us as individuals: our ability to manage our own emotions and our inner potential for positive relationships.

A Companion to Emotional Intelligence

Almost ten years later, in 2006, Social Intelligence was published. Goleman intends this book to be a companion volume to Emotional Intelligence, exploring the same terrain of human life from a different vantage point, one that allows a wider swath of understanding of our personal world.

In Social Intelligence, Goleman shifts the focus to those moments when humans interact and shows how, through their sum total, we create one another. Here the picture enlarges beyond a one-person psychology – those capacities an individual has within – to a two person psychology: what transpires as we connect.

A Brain Designed for Social Interaction

According to Goleman, neuroscience has discovered that our brain’s very design makes it sociable, inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person. That neural bridge lets us affect the brain—and so the body—of everyone we interact with, just as they do us.

Every time you interact with another, your emotions are being primed and your nervous system is being stimulated, affecting hormones, heart rate, circulation, breathing and the immune system. Goleman provides an overview of the neurological underpinnings of his theories but doesn't lose the reader in the science or the jargon.

Anecdotes Coupled with Science

From neural pathways and the regulation of sensory and arousal stimuli by the thalamus and the amygdala, to spindle cells which play a central role in processing social decisions, he provides just enough neurobiology to ground the anecdotes in science. And the book is filled with anecdotes through which Goleman demonstrates theory in action.

Goleman places marriage, sexual attraction, empathy, parenting, group dynamics, psychopaths, narcissists, remorse, attachment, bonding and an entire range of other emotions and behaviours in context through these anecdotes. He describes what happens in our brains as we interact with others and shows how these relationships can mold not only experience but human biology.

Two Broad Categories

The ingredients of social intelligence that Goleman proposes can be organized into two broad categories: social awareness and social facility.

Social Awareness

Social awareness is what we sense about others and refers to a spectrum that runs from instantaneously sensing another’s inner state, to understanding his or her feelings and thoughts, to comprehending complicated social situations.

Social awareness includes:

  • Primal empathy: feeling with others, sensing non-verbal emotional signals
  • Attunement: listening with full receptivity; attuning to a person
  • Empathic accuracy: understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions
  • Social cognition: knowing how the social world works
  • Social Facility

Social facility is what we do with our social awareness. Simply sensing how another feels, or knowing what they think or intend, does not guarantee fruitful interactions. Social facility builds on social awareness to allow smooth, effective interactions. The spectrum of social facility includes:

  • Synchrony: interacting smoothly at the non-verbal level (for example body language)
  • Self-presentation: presenting ourselves effectively
  • Influence: shaping the outcome of social interactions
  • Concern:  caring about others’ needs and acting accordingly
Low Road & High Road Capacities

Goleman divides social intelligence capacities into low road and high road. Low road means, essentially, an unconscious, automatic reaction. Synchrony and primal empathy are purely low road capacities. High road refers to a capacity that is open to conscious consideration and control. He classifies empathic accuracy and influence as capacities that mingle high and low.

Goleman addresses the question as to whether we can improve a low road capacity despite its instantaneous, unconscious operation.  Primal empathy is the key function in reading emotions from facial expressions. He describes a CD based program called MicroExpression Training that is designed to improve your ability in this activity in less than an hour. In the pretest, Goleman scored 50% which was right in line with the norm since most people average around 40% to 50% on the pretest. After the one hour training session his score had improved to 86%.

The Dark Triad

Goleman also delves into the psychology of the narcissistic leader and delivers a message strikingly in tune with Manfred Kets de Vries in ‘Leader on the Couch’ (see review elsewhere in this newsletter). Goleman also discusses the other two types of what he terms the ‘dark triad’ –Machiavellian and psychopathic (or sociopathic) leaders.

Catching Others' Emotions

For leaders of organizations or teams, one of the most significant statements that Goleman makes, is that you can catch other people’s emotions the way you catch a cold. In issues of corporate culture, team spirit or employee morale, this single aspect demands serious attention. If, as Goleman maintains, good relationships act like vitamins and bad relationships like poisons, a toxic corporate culture could be much more than a metaphor.

In ‘The Leader on the Couch’, de Vries argues that leaders need to understand the underlying psychology that drives both themselves and their employees. Similarly, ‘Social Intelligence’ provides an additional level of understanding that can help leaders place the behaviours of both groups in a more appropriate context.

An Interesting & Enlightening Read

It won’t provide you with a new model of leadership, but it may just give you that extra understanding needed to turnaround a bad situation or strengthen an already good one. In any case, Social Intelligence is a highly interesting and enlightening read.

To purchase 'Social Intelligence' click this link to get it from: