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RESEARCH SERIES: What makes an empowerered leader?




How do leadership failures resist the growing body of leadership literature, the improvement of leadership training and the selection of smart and motivated leaders?

Olivier Guillet (DBA Alumnus 2017) has worked on shedding a new light on leader development by exploring leadership failures using a psychoanalytical perspective, in particular Jungian theory. Guillet’s work has been included paper presented at the British Academy of Management (Leadership Empowerment, A Jungian Approach, BAM, September 2016) and an article published in the Indian Management Studies Journal (Leader Empowerment, A Jungian Approach, IMSJ, April 2017).

Linking failures to blockings…

So why leadership failures not only remain so frequent but are also dramatically increasing for organizations and society? Many of these failures can be considered as mere mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. The mainstream leadership literature provides a wide range of intellectual and technical solutions for leaders wanting to learn from their mistakes. But what if the majority of these failures were not to be attributed to mere mistakes but rather to psychological blockings preventing managers from overcoming limiting beliefs or behaviors?

Burke (2006) identified 6 major causes to leadership failures: arrogance, perfectionism, aloofness, insensitivity, selfishness and betraying the trust of others. Analyzing these failures from a psychological standpoint shows that they are all related to psychological blockings: low self esteem, fear of being hurt, fear of failure, fear of being deprived, fear of being rejected and irrational drive for safety. In this case, an exploration of unconscious forces has to be an integral part of such a research.

… and blockings to Jungian individuation and archetypes 

Jungian theory provides a very interesting framework for taking the analysis further. From a Jungian point of view, these blockings are all characteristics of the first phase of the individuation process: the ego phase. Individuation, in Jungian terms can be divided in 3 phases: Ego (adaptation to the demand of the demand of the environment), Soul (integration of unconscious contents) and Self (realization of self). Could it be that struggling leaders are merely stuck in the first phase of individuation and unable to step into the second, which is characterized by a dialogue between conscious and unconscious? The Jungian unconscious is not solely a personal one that primarily consists of storing repressed memories and feelings. This unconscious is also collective, which favors a much more holistic and dynamic approach to human problems. Having established a link between failures and blockings, this research establishes a link between blockings and phases of individuation. Archetypes will come into play. Archetypes are core ideas and energies composing the collective unconscious and being manifested in a symbolic manner. Among the many archetypes, 4 main ones can be attributed to each phase of the individuation process. The Ego archetypes (4 archetypes), the Soul archetypes (4 archetypes) and the Self archetypes (4 archetypes).

Soul archetypes: a remedy to leader psychological blockings

This research empirically reveals the role of the integration of soul archetypes in overcoming psychological blockings and the role of self-archetypes in empowering leaders.

In a first step, a case study describing the evolution of a fictitious leader has been presented to corporate leaders. The story is divided in three separated phases of leadership development corresponding to the three phases of individuation. By using projective techniques and archetypal images, this approach accesses the respondent’s conscious and unconscious representations of leader development.

The results are eloquent: the interviewed leaders massively link the ego archetypes to the failing situation, the soul archetypes to the improved situation and the self archetypes to the thriving phase.

Leadership empowerment: beyond reason and goodwill

Leadership does not result only from the managers’ goodwill and their intellectual grasp of leadership concepts. To become successful leaders, executives must remove psychological blockings residing in the unconscious as well as in the conscious part of their psyche. Individuation leads to a level of psychological development that enables managers to use more effectively the knowledge developed by instrumental leadership theory.

The suggested approach to leader empowerment does not invalidate currently dominating leadership theory. Providing the psychological requirement for effective leader development, the suggested approach builds the necessary basis for leadership theory to be effectively implemented.

This research calls for further complementary research. The unconsciously perceived correlation between leader empowerment and the 3 phases of individuation (ego, soul, self) being established it is particularly interesting to explore how each phase can be ideally developed in order to set the grounds for leader empowerment.


If you are interested in this research please feel free to contact Olivier Guillet: 

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