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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Psychoanalytic Perspectives on the Tasks of Formal Leadership Development

Formal leadership educational experiences are widely available, for individuals of all ages, in much of the world. In the United States, for instance, leadership education takes place for middle school students, for executives and for most everyone in between. Formal leadership development programs (termed LD henceforth) are offered by all manner of educational institutions and consulting firms. The growth of such efforts has taken place in spite of the nearly universal agreement on the importance of direct experience for leadership development (Lombardo, 1988). Indeed, evaluative research tends to show that well designed formal leadership training tends to result in the development of some sustained changes in behavior and/or attitudes relevant to the leadership role (Bass, 1990). Most leadership scholars, however, would likely argue that the effective assumption of a leadership role requires more than accruing a variety of influence and visioning skills. (Like most authors, I distinguish here between managing or dealing with the complexity of an existing state, and leadership that promotes change from one state to the next. (Kotter, 1990). \Managing, directing, realizing one's visions, creating systems and leading human beings in pursuit of a goal: all of these activities require that a leader have a certain feeling of potency,' Lapierre, 1989, p. 178). Lapierre describes this sense of potency as the state that makes the leader capable of actions having a relatively far-reaching impact on people and things. Such a description of the requirements of leadership could lend even more credence to the notion that classroom education is likely to play a minimal role, at best, in the development of leaders.However, I have been struck by the fact that for many participants, their feelings about taking on a leadership, and their sense of personal potency in relation to the leadership role, are in fact impacted by the educational process. Participants' reports before, during and after a formal LD experience confirm that many find that they unexpectedly experience a change in the way they feel about themselves as individuals, and as leaders. Various program components seem to be related to this transition: experiential activities, 360 degree feedback, conceptual frameworks, and case discussions all seem to offer some participants, to varying degrees, the opportunity for change, though the link between particular program components, and the potential for significant change, is at best unclearThe change process that can take place for some participants in formal LD education experiences has not been sufficiently addressed by management and organizational behavior researchers and perhaps most importantly, has not be explored by psychodynamic researchers, who may, in fact have the most to add to the discussion. I say this because the change process I have in mind directly relates to the sense of self of the participant, as much or more than to his or her cognitive changes that can accompany skill building (though the two may be related). Indeed, the trainer or professor is often able to actually observe something taking place in the classroom that goes well beyond the identification with a cognitive framework. This phenomenon is rarely touched upon in program brochures and course descriptions, and frequently runs counter to the expectations of program participants.The purpose of this paper is to provoke the beginnings of a discussion of the psychoanalytic tasks and processes that may be at work in formal leadership education. It should not be considered the last word on the subject, but rather one of the first. Leadership education is a complex project and is accompanied by a variety of motives on the part of those who participate in such programs as well as those who provide them. I will proceed by first exploring a psychodynamically informed systems view of the tasks of leadership education, as this perspective suggests a way to position the study of the phenomena to follow. I will then discuss the expectations and beliefs of program participants in relation to program tasks by focusing on two commonly observed 'classes' of fantasies: and the fast track participant and the remedial participant. Two case studies, one representing each class, will also be presented to illustrate apparently successful personal outcomes for program participants in relation to the development of a greater sense of potency. Finally, I will discuss the impact of formal LD education from the perspective of the developmental tasks required for effectively assuming a leadership role. It is the over arching hypothesis of this work that such a developmental framework can greatly inform our ability to help LD participants though it does demand that we learn a great deal more about the link between program components, faculty and the specific needs of individuals who participate in LD program.'