Case study 12.1 in Northouse’s Leadership: Theory and Practice deals with the psychodynamic approach, the unconventional approach to leadership. This approach does not route along the usual lines of leadership, does not look at the observable, conscious, and rational choices; instead the psychodynamic approach provides insight to human behavior and the subconscious forces that guide an individual’s “reality”. In this paper I will review what is occurring in the case study, overview the psychodynamic approach, and then discuss my assessment and critique of the case study, as well as provide a way to resolve the issue.
The title gives a strong sense as to what the case is about: dealing with passive-aggressives. It looks at Robert, described as a colleague who takes on Lucas, a new hire. The words “his team” suggest that Robert may be the head or founder of a group within the organization, but no other hierarchical status is stated. Lucas is said to be agreeable and supportive on the face and initial part of hire, making him, as far as the reader can see, a good fit. The case then describes him, in regards to Roberts opinion, as not timely, makes promises that are not kept which are later backed with excuses, and complaints about Robert to other colleagues. The case then states more firmly that Lucas is passive aggressive backing it up with these points: “continuously expressing negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive, passive manner”. No other facts about Lucas or Roberts character and relationship is stated, only inferences can be made past this point.
The framework and application of the psychodynamic approach begins with the clinical paradigm according to Northouse. He gives four basic points to describe this. The first is the idea that there is a rationale behind every human act, whether this be conscious or unconscious, there is a logical explanation. The second is that the mental life of an individual lives outside conscious awareness, and all feelings, fears, and motives may reside within a blind spot that an individual is unaware of. Everyone has some blind spot. Thirdly, emotions dictate the way a person perceives and chooses how their interactions and day goes, and the regulation and expressions of these emotions create each experience. The fourth and final aspect looks at the idea that we are products of our past experiences, including early development. Northouse states that human development is an inter- and intrapersonal process. This framework is all applicable to the case study and in review, I will be keeping this in mind when discussing the views and interaction between Robert and Lucas and will create questions that involve this framework.
Further in chapter 12 Northouse gives us key concepts and dynamics of the psychodynamic approach. Our previous experiences and interactions with individuals will dictate to some extent (known or unknown) interactions with strangers, executives, family, boyfriends, etc. Deep rooted issues that have developed over time because of these interactions may be at play, Northouse calls these “core conflictual relationship themes” which in regards to a workplace is inferred onto others. The reactions to perceived actions versus actual actions are a large issue that creates false interpretations. The leader-follower relationship is shaped by this as well as dependency on the leader, fight-flight reactions to the group or leader, and pairing assumptions which places emphasis on groups but may create conflict if broken or weak. Defense mechanism may become an organizational issue if not addressed and these manifest themselves under splitting, projection, displacement, and denial. Working to keep people emotionally uninvolved helps curve this, but only to the extent where creativity and meaning is upheld. Mirroring and idealizing can also come in the way within the workplace, where an individual reflects what the leader might want to see. An aggressive leader could also produce aggressive individuals who impersonate the same attitudes. Lastly, narcissistic trends can be good or bad for an organization, it is important to be aware of these behaviors.
Analysis of the case study under the psychodynamic approach can be assessed within many different facets. Beginning with the issue of a vague case study, we do not know the relationship of Roberts interactions within the group, or even generally in the workforce setting. We do not know if Robert has a higher status than Lucas, or even the team. We also do not know how often they interact or the organization they are cooperating under. Lucas is said to be passive-aggressive, giving excuses for untimely work that he states he did not understand, or another person was also untimely, or he had misinterpreted the given information. We also know that Lucas communicates to other colleagues, since the case study states Robert knows Lucas is talking about him behind his back, along with the statement that “he had been relying on someone else”. Although there is little information, much of it that gives a vague understanding, we are able to see that the relationship between the two colleagues is strained and there is uncommunicated frustrations between them.
The experiences either character is experiencing could be guided by some other occurrence that provides a lens of negativity, which may have begun the conflicted relationship. The perceived view of Lucas by Robert could be skewed by a perceived relationship. Vice versa, Lucas could view Robert and anticipates their interactions without verbally addressing his issues since he joined the team. Lucas may also be assuming or may function on another beat than Robert and needs more guidance or dependency than is offered. Lucas then may be acting out, a possible defense mechanism, in regards to how his relationship with Robert is currently. It is likely that he is projecting his shortcomings or he is displacing his negative emotions onto Robert, caused either within or outside the workplace. The structure could be unhealthy for Lucas and it may not be Roberts fault, he could just be the one that is experiencing it the most. Lucas reality and anxiety may be affected by the environment, and he may not know how he is acting or what is causing the unsettling relationship, or he may be fixating on the issues. Since we do not know anything else about the group, we cannot address the in-group out-group possibilities. Lucas or Robert could both be mirroring each other’s behavior in a negative way, reflecting what they see in one another. Without a prompt to uncover the nonrational behaviors, the dynamic may never change.
Addressing the question that the book arises, Robert could either confront Lucas directly or create a group opportunity to work together drawing out each strengths and weaknesses, in-turn allowing a mutual identification of self and group dynamics. Addressing the issues within the group may also allow for a stronger community and a way to vicariously learn through observation and listening to each individual who is involved. To get Lucas to openly express his negative feelings, the group dynamic may be the best way to hold that uncomfortable conversation, as long as the group has been open and willing to share it may allow for a free expression without confrontation. The subjects and issues that could be explored with Lucas may not need to directly involve Robert, it could be about the workplace, or external factors, or his history with previous employers or group settings. If these do not seem to cover it all, Lucas may express his feelings with Robert.
In order to practice a direct confrontation with Robert, Lucas can work on reflecting his own feelings and intentions as well as reflecting on his strengths and weaknesses, as well as examining his possible blind spots. Looking at his past may also help in understanding his motives and draw out a better understanding of the conflict. Robert can also exercise his mind by reveling in the past and seeing if any other relationship has been similar which he has been drawing perceptions from. Both Lucas and Robert can ask themselves these few questions: Is a present or past relationship with someone skewing my view? Is there something outside the workplace that has my emotions running high? What specific issue do I have with the other? What can I do to address this without confrontation? With confrontation? Can I ask the group to help me see what is going on? Can I address this issue with the group, or with confrontation? Both? Working within the group may be important to create a tipping point for change in a broad sense, which may minimize any other altercations. Since there is no true seen leadership role, it is pertinate to emphasize strong group dynamics that do not allow any out groups to form, and allow for the mutual identification that Northouse provides in his group coaching principle. Group coaching is used to address and give feedback on the many facets of the group, from self to peer interactions as well as the whole identity. With every member working together, uncovering the discrepancies in their lives will create a healthier environment.