The psychodynamic approach has many strengths, such as a understanding between the relationship between a leader and their followers, the ability to cross cultural lines, the encouragement of personal growth, and encouragement of morality in leadership (L3, p.6, 2018). On the contrary, it is said that the approaches include that the theories were formulated on the severely mentally ill, based on two-parent families, not based on organizations, not well translated to training and it focuses too much on the individual. While the psychodynamic approach receives criticism of being too focused on the individual, possibly the individual focus is the approach’s greatest strength. This blog will focus on the weakness of the group dynamic, the strength of being an authentic leader, and the use of executive coaching, specifically diving into the shadow and the utilization of dream interpretation for leaders.
Once the leader is able to identify their authentic self and mature into their individuation, they are able to become stronger leaders in their organizations. When a group is gathered, there is a dynamic that is quickly created subconsciously that is a silent group of rules that govern how things are done within that set of people and that can limit their behavior and even their innovation (Vince, 2011). These unspoken rules directly relate to how the followers learn from each other and the leader, which is a play between fantasy and reality, which is the psychodynamic approach (Vince, 2011), a person’s subconscious speaking from past experience that is affecting their lives and group interactions today. Our collective unconscious morphs into mental images of how we think our group or organization is supposed to work (Vince 2011) so it makes sense to look at leading these groups from an elevated platform, which is taking the group dynamic out of the equation. By focusing on the individual leader, we don’t have the expectations of how we’re supposed to act, how we’re supposed to relate to office politics, how we’re supposed to limit our innovation to stay within a role as the “architecture of the invisible” (Vince, 2011). This “architecture of the invisible” limits a group and a leader because of the group dynamic, because it sets an invisible rule book that everyone in the group is supposed to follow. By the leader getting individual training on psychodynamics, they are able to work with emotions of their group, engage with difficulties in their organization, and enhance their ability to learn (Vince, 2011). While training a group of leaders may be more time effective, it seems that having a competent leader who can steer the group’s collective unconscious is a huge asset to prevent misunderstanding of roles, of expectations, and encourage innovation in their organization because they can utilize each follower’s strength. If we break the individual leader out of a group dynamic for training, the leader can receive more effective training of their “self.”
Now that we can see the limitations of training in a group, let’s look at authenticity in leadership, a very individual approach to leadership training (Ladkin, 2016). Being an authentic leader means having self awareness and self regulation, and Jung says that an authentic leader isn’t necessarily perfect (Ladkin, 2016). Empirical research shows that leaders don’t feel that they can lead authentically because they translate that to staying positive and upbeat all of the time. In fact, that actually can cause inauthentic behavior (Ladkin, 2016). These leaders do not realize that by only projecting a happy face, they are probably projecting a lot of their shadow self onto their followers and creating a hazard within their organization but the leaders fear that by showing the shadows and difficulties, it makes them feel like a weak or ineffective leader (Ladkin, 2016). Basically, if leaders don’t own up to their own shortcomings, they are going to come out anyway. The leader can openly admit to their followers that a deal didn’t work out as they planned or they can sugar-coat the ruined deal with their followers commenting behind their back that upper management didn’t do very well. The thing is that these leaders are not trained individually to turn to their true selves during times of difficulty in work and they disconnect their values from the roles that they play in their job (Ladkin, 2016). When a leader is able to be trained in the complementary approach, where the leader is trained to work on their strengths next to our shadows, they are able to balance everything that makes them human, and this is not something that is able to be done alone (Ladkin, 2016). The leader needs some sort of one-on-one work to identify their shadows. Jung says that more than half of our lives are in a subconscious state and our individuation is a combination of our conscious and unconscious, but the most important thing is for us to be aware of our shadow because if we do not become aware, the repression could make the shadow stronger (Ladkin, 2016). By working individually with a coach, a leader can accept their failures as learning experiences, rather than signs of weakness or failures (Ladkin, 2016). Ladkin says that “Ignoring one’s shadow and avoiding the hard work of becoming an individuated person creates leaders who are deluded about who they really are” (2016). So by focusing on the individual leader, specifically one who focuses on their shadows, research shows that you are creating a leader who has greater responsibility within the organization, treats their followers better, and approaches their work with greater morality (Ladkin, 2016). A group setting would be inappropriate and ineffective for this deep sort of shadow work, where the leader must really dig deep into who they are to identify their shortcomings and then create a game plan with a knowledgeable coach to work on these shadows.
So, what else can a coach do to help the individual leader become more effective? Having a business coach used to be a sign of failure or weakness of the leader but as business changes so quickly, and leaders are under more pressure than ever, having a executive coach is a status symbol to encourage high-performers and high-achievers to keep going, and basically essential for these leaders (Kets, 2014). My boyfriend pays $1500 a month for his executive sales coach because he knows that his coach keeps him at peak-performance, just like a Serena Williams still has a coach, even though she is one of the best tennis players in the world. While executive coaches use many methods, they all focus specifically on one executive not a group, which is why they are so expensive. They are not affiliated with the companies and provide an impartial sounding board for the leader. Kets says, “Metaphorically speaking, many leaders are like swans, ﬂoating stately and serene on the water but paddling like crazy under the surface” (2014). There are many stresses in a leaders life, including that when a leader climbs the corporate ladder, there are less opportunities for feedback on their performance. This can be detrimental if they do not have someone to guide them like an executive coach whose main role is to help the leader have self-awareness (Kets, 2014) and that can mean addressing their shadow self as well.
One of the techniques that executive coaches use has deep roots in the psychodynamic approach: oneirology, the study of dreams. Freud said that dreams are the road to the unconscious, where all of our fears and deepest desires reside, along with our repressed childhood memories. Jung had a more forward approach to dreams, saying that it is a connection to the collective unconscious which connects all of humanity through archetypes (Kets, 2014). When the coaches understand Freud’s theories and Jung’s archetypes, its a path to understand their client’s psyche a bit deeper. By having this ticket to the leader’s inner-theater, the coaches are able to see more into their client’s lives, what their struggles are, their challenges, and what is in the forefront of their mind, including solutions for their problems (Kets, 2014). Evolutionary psychologists say that dreams are a way for us to practice our fight-or-flight response where we can practice threat avoidance, and practice problem solving in a safe place that isn’t apparent when we’re awake (Kets, 2014). Kets gives many examples of how these dream interpretations are applicable to coaching. One example was of a CEO who dreamt of being caught naked outside of his home with only a washcloth to cover himself and found his wallet on the ground without any money in it as his neighbors pointed and laughed at him. From the dream, he and his coach was able to identify that he was very anxious about a presentation to the board that he knew was not going to go well. He felt exposed and was concerned about the board’s repercussions from the content of the meeting (2014). Kets also told of a woman who dreamt of being caught under a rock avalanche and as soon as she was able to dig herself out a little bit, more rock would tumble upon her. She was able to identify through her coach that she was feeling that her progress in her position was being thwarted by her coworkers (2014). Once the leader is courageous and brave enough to share their dreams with their coach they are revealing things about themselves that may never come up in a regular coaching session (Kets, 2014). Utilizing this psychodynamic approach, the coach is able to ask the leader how a dream made them feel, ask about any intensification of emotions during or after the dream, if there is a recurrent theme in their dreams or thoughts after the dream occurred (Kets, 2014). This allows the coach to have a fuller story to work on shadows with their client, and reinforce positive changes.
As mentioned, the individualistic nature of the psychodynamic approach is not going to be the cheapest or most efficient way to train an entire corporation’s leadership team. However, the concern that this approach concentrates on the singular leader is probably it’s greatest strength. When groups gather, they create a subconscious group of rules of how they are supposed to act, based on their own past experiences. By breaking the leader out from a group setting, they can focus solely on their own growth without traversing unspoken rules within a group. One that leader is broken from the group, they can work on their shadow self, the things that aren’t the best parts of themselves, and work on that along with their shining moments with a coach. Having an coach to help the leader in an unbiased manner allows the leader to grow and receive feedback to become a better leader and version of themselves. Utilizing other psychodynamic techniques such as the study of the leader’s dreams can untap subconscious concerns, solutions to problems, and even allow their coaches to understand them a bit better in their everyday relations. So while the criticism lies that this approach is too focused on the individual leader, there is a mountain of support for this single person approach to leadership training.
Kets, d. V. (2014). Dream journeys: A new territory for executive coaching.Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 66(2), 77-92. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1037/cpb0000004
Ladkin, D., Spiller, C., Craze, G. (2016). The journey of individuation: A Jungian alternative to the theory and practice of leading authentically. Leadership, Vol 14, Issue 4, pp. 415 – 434.
Pennsylvania State University. (2018). Lesson 3: Psychodynamic Approach. Leadership in work — PSYCH 485. Online course lesson, Penn State World Campus Retrieved September 6, 2018 from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1942231/modules/items/25010767
Vince, R. (2011). The spatial psychodynamics of management learning. Management Learning. Vol 42, Issue 3, pp. 333 – 347.