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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

A Psychoanalytic Perspective of Leadership and Followership in Jewish Institutional Life

As a psychotherapist and an organisational development consultant trained in the psychoanalytical tradition, I have had the privilege over many years, of being presented with the most private and sensitive inner thoughts of patients and managers of organisations, enabling me to draw conclusions about the human mind and about organisations, how they function, what defences they employ against anxiety and how they derive meaning from and attribute meaning to life's experiences. This interest in the application of psychoanalysis outside the consulting room has led me to a specialised study of groups, organisations and institutions, as they struggle to maintain themselves in the face of internal and environmental pressures. In my work I have been influenced by models of individual, group and organisational functioning developed by Freud, and later theorists like Klein and Bion, A.K. Rice, Pierre Turquet, Eric Miller and Gordon Lawrence of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, and their particular emphasis on the role of unconscious forces in determining the events and relationships of individuals, groups, organisations and institutions. Particularly significant for me was learning about the relationship between the individual, his group and society by attending the so-called Tavistock-Leicester conferences on leadership, power and authority. The Primary Task of these conferences, according to its first director, A.K.Rice, is to provide those who attend with opportunities to learn about leadership. The concept of leadership is a complex one and is tied to our thinking about organisational structure and the life of institutions. It is impossible to prescribe how the words authority and leadership and followership shall be defined. The various meanings of these terms will gain greater or lesser clarity as they are experienced by each of us in concrete situations in our various institutions. In my work with organisations, by focusing on the subject of leadership and authority, it is possible to see patterns of behaviour emerging with regard to these concepts. Leadership in a group or organisation can be thought of as representing or embodying the function of the group, especially its major function or primary task. (Rice 1963, 1965; Miller and Rice, 1967). The primary task, according to Rice, is the task which the organisation or institution must perform in order to survive. The institution usually also performs secondary tasks. An important question then becomes, how do members of the group as followers relate to the primary task as represented by the leader? Do they accomplish parts of it that, when put together, complete the total task? Do they fight to destroy it, betray it, sabotage it, work toward redefining or changing it? Do they compete for the position of leader? How do they conceive of authority in the group? Looking at these and other attitudes towards the leader, leadership and authority are ways of looking at the functioning of the organisation as a whole. In this paper I shall attempt to demonstrate that understanding the current and historical dilemmas of Jews, Jewish institutions, Jewish communities and Israel as a state, cannot be achieved without relying on knowledge derived from psychoanalysis.