Conflict is a natural part of the life of groups and within this it seems inevitable that leaders will be attacked. I know that I have attacked the leader of groups and organisations I have been part of; and as a leader, I have been attacked myself. It goes with the territory and it has been said that attacks on the leader are to be welcomed as a sign of life in the group – if the leader isn’t being attacked then people really don’t care much about the group. What is at the deepest level of these attacks? I believe it has to do with, what Arnold Mindell calls, the high dream.
The most interesting theories on leadership attack come from the field of psychodynamics. They suggest that attacks arise from the processes of introjection, and projection. Kets de Vries suggests that followers “project their fantasies onto their leader, interpret everything leaders do in the light of their self-created image of them, and fatally seduce leaders into believing that they are in fact the illusory creatures the followers made them”. This sets up a dynamic where the followers are expecting the leader to fulfil their dream image; the leader starts to believe that they are this dream figure; and both leader and follower are in fact living a dream and not a reality. Arnold Mindell has described this as a process of being “dreamed up”.
There is also a tendency these days with the whole cult of leadership in management circles to over identify with the what are seen as the good qualities of leadership, such as vision, inspiration and charisma. Those in leadership positions who are not seen as being “good” leaders tend to be disowned as leaders altogether, being described instead as tyrants and despots. This is a phenomenon that Barbara Kellerman has termed “Hitler’s ghost”.
Among the qualities that are expected of an ideal leader are:
- The ability to inspire through vision, charisma and setting an example
- Integrity displayed through being trustworthy and authentic
- Drive and determination to see things through
- The ability to build community and maintain it
- Being self-aware, centred and reflective
- Being supportive of the development of their followers
- Having a desirable ideology and values
A pretty tall order, I think you will agree. Although it may be possible to fulfil these expectations, some of the time or some of them for considerable periods, there are going to be disappointments. At some point, the leader is going to show their human side (as distinct from the super-human expectations) and the dream is going to become tarnished. Once that starts to happen, the search begins for the other qualities that were there all along and that did not fit with the dream image of the ideal leader.
At the same time, the leader is conscious that they are no longer fulfilling this ideal and begins to have doubts and self-criticisms. They isolate themselves and, are in turn, isolated by their erstwhile followers. The dream that they had internalised is no longer true and resentment sets in. Drive and determination start to be seen as being autocratic and controlling; charisma is seen as narcissism; when the leader takes time to be reflective, they are seen as self-interested.
This occurs as a natural consequence of placing all of a groups dreams and expectations on the shoulders of one individual. In a way they are being set up to fail and it is only a matter of time before the attack comes. A group that is prepared to look at the dynamic of the relationship between the dream of the leader and the reality of fulfilling the dream can have far more realistic expectations of their leader and can share the responsibility of leadership more widely.
Do a Google search for the word followership and you get 142,000 results; do a search for leadership and you get 134 million. Yet without followers, a leader is a lonely figure. So why do we focus so much attention on leadership and so little on followership? The day when a leader could expect blind allegiance is gone. More and more people are challenging hierarchal structures and those at the head of them.
There is a dynamic relationship of mutual benefit and support between the leader and the follower. They both need each other, and the task, organisation, business or cause that they serve needs them both. Moreover, it needs them to work together. Therefore, it is in the interest of your business or organisation to give attention to both, and to the dynamic of the relationship between them.
It is necessary to distinguish between followers and subordinates. Subordinates are in an inferior position in a hierarchy and are expected to obey commands from the person in the position of leader. The leader has authority and the subordinate is expected to submit to that authority. A follower, on the other hand, follows because they want to. There may still be a hierarchal structure in place, but they follow because they want to and not because they have to.
It cannot be assumed that people will follow a leader. The follower has needs that must be satisfied by the leader or they will cease to follow. When they do so they become a leader – either leading themselves and others away from the organisation or leading the organisation in another direction.
I believe that organisations or businesses that take an honest and open look at this dynamic and focus on how to support both leaders and followers have the greatest chance of success.
Several writers have tried to categorise followers into different types. Robert Kelley describes five types:
- Alienated Followers are independent, critical thinkers; but low on active engagement. Although members of the group they do not participate, are critical and cynical. They are free thinkers.
- Conformist Followers (Yes People) are actively engaged but are not independent thinkers. They like to be told what to do and will defer to the leader.
- Passive Followers (Sheep) are dependent upon the leader to do the thinking, are uncritical of the leader or the group’s actions and are passive participants, going along with the group.
- Pragmatist Followers (Survivors) somewhat independent in their thinking and active engagement. They are measured and limited in their criticism of the leader.
- Exemplary Followers are independent critical thinkers who engage actively in the group. They can be relied upon to give constructive, critical input and to act on their own initiative.
Ira Chaleff describes five types:
- The Partner is highly supportive of the leader yet will also challenge and question the leader’s behaviour and policies. Chaleff identifies this follower as displaying the characteristics of a Courageous Follower.
- The Implementer can be relied upon to get the job done without much supervision. However, they cannot be relied upon to give critical feedback if the leader is heading in a direction that conflicts with the purpose or values of the organisation.
- The Individualist can be relied upon to voice an opinion and be critical of the leader. However, they tend not to balance their negative criticism with active support when the leader is doing well.
- The Resource is reliable and dependable – a safe pair of hands. They can be relied upon to do their job but no more. They are unlikely to voice an opinion one way or another.
In an ideal situation the leader will have plenty of Kelley’s Exemplary Followers or Chaleff’s Courageous Followers. However, this will not happen without leaders and an organisational culture that supports this relationship. It requires a leader who is not afraid of criticism, who is open to and who cultivates relationship, and who is prepared to follow. It requires followers who are able to see that their current role is to follow, and to show leadership. It requires an organisation that sees these roles; leader and follower; not as rigid positions but as roles that support the purpose of the organisation.
The concept of roles as being fluid and not attached to individuals is an important one to grasp. It is core to how Process Work views relationships. It is not to say that there should not be a position of leader. However, if the role of leader is seen as fluid and belonging to the group then it is open to anyone to take it up. Similarly, the role of follower is fluid too and can be taken up by anyone – including the leader. If the roles of leader and follower are seen as belonging to the group rather than being attached to any individual it is possible to get away from any one person being permanently attached to a particular role. In that way it is the group’s purpose that can be followed and led.
To do this there needs to be an open and frank dialogue between all members of the organisation about what is expected of the leaders and the followers. This will allow a relationship where all understand and support the various roles and everyone is in support of the purpose of the organisation or group.
 Kelley, R; 1992; The Power of Followership: How to create leaders people want to follow, and followers who lead themselves; Doubleday; New York
 Chaleff, I; 1995, 2003; The Courageous Follower, Standing up to & for our leaders, 2nd Edition; Berrett Koehler; San Francisco
It makes sense to address conflict in your organisation, whether it is a business, a club, a committee or a community group. Conflict that is not addressed and that is allowed to continue and fester affects the morale, the productivity, the profits, the outcome, and the health and well-being of those involved.
Some of these costs are immediately apparent. Someone may leave the organisation due to stress. If they don’t leave then others may in order to avoid the stress of being in a conflict situation. There is the immediate effect of the loss of someone who may be valuable to the organisation; the cost of replacing them in terms of recruitment; the loss of productivity; the disruption to work practices.
Bringing someone new into an organisation or team is a cost that is hard to measure. New relationships have to be built and a new dynamic established. It is difficult to measure how this affects an organisation.
If the conflict was not addressed an resolved, it leaves a legacy that can become part of the organisational culture. It becomes the acceptable way to behave and a culture of tension and aggression results. This makes for a place that is not comfortable to work or be part of. It can put people off joining and can drive clients and customers away.
Some of the ways in which unresolved conflict can manifest itself are:
- Illness caused by stress, frustration, and anxiety is perhaps the greatest indicator of conflict in an organisation going unaddressed.
- Loss of sleep due to worry leads to employees coming to work tired and thus being less productive
- Strained relationships mean that people avoid each other and don’t co-operate leading to lower productivity
- Grievances and litigation cost time and money!
- Presenteeism is where an employee turns up for work but doesn’t really fulfil their function. They are there but not working
- Employee turnover due to people leaving and having to be replaced
- Loss of productivity due to low morale, people taking sick leave and avoidance
Most people adopt a conflict avoidance strategy where conflict is suppressed and not addressed – in effect, they are in conflict with conflict itself! Another is to impose a resolution from above. Someone in authority steps in between the conflicting parties and imposes a solution. If you have ever tried to hold a balloon under water you will understand how difficult it is to suppress something that wants to emerge. One way or another it will rise to the surface and the more deeply it is suppressed the more forcefully it erupts in the end.
Conflict is going to be a part of any organisation or workplace. It can be allowed to do further damage or it can be turned to advantage. Having a comprehensive conflict management system in place is the first step. This should work from the bottom up with those most directly involved in the conflict working together to find a resolution that meets their interests. This can be done through direct dialogue between the parties or can involve an impartial mediator to help facilitate a resolution. Mediation has been shown to be a more productive and cost effective way of resolving conflict than imposition of a solution by judgment or arbitration. It is a voluntary process that focuses on the interests of the parties involved and seeks to reach an agreement that addresses those interests. It is in the interests of any organisation to have mediation as part of their dispute resolution or grievance procedures
Have you ever wondered why you sometimes feel inferior to or put down by a someone, and then notice that another time they are reacting to you as though you were superior to them or putting them down? Rank differences are the key contributor to conflicts and their escalation. Having rank awareness gives you an insight into what is happening in a conflict.
Arnold Mindell developed the concept of rank to bring awareness to the process where people feel more or less powerful in any given situation at any particular moment. Rank differences and the misuse or abuse of rank is behind all social situations and contributes to all conflicts. Having awareness of your own rank helps you to understand why you may feel less powerful or abused by someone with higher rank. Having awareness of your higher rank can lessen the likelihood of your using it in a way that is experienced as hurtful or abusive by someone of lower rank. High rank can be used in a positive way if a person is conscious of their high rank and can occupy it congruently.
Rank is described as the sum total of a person’s power and privileges at any given moment. You earn some of your power and privilege over your life, by facing life’s challenges and overcoming them. Some rank is unearned; you acquire it by birth or social position. Rank is not constant and can change from moment to moment in a particular situation.
A person who has lower rank will notice rank and experience it more acutely than a person with higher rank. People with higher rank can be unaware or unconscious of their rank. If you are unaware of your rank, it is more likely to be experienced as abusive by someone else. Rank is neither good nor bad – it just is. Becoming more aware of your rank reduces your likelihood of abusing it.
Rank is demonstrated through signals such as posture, tone of voice, volume of speech, clothing, language and gestures. You cannot hide your rank, it will come out in double-signals; you may be saying one thing but your body language will be telling a different story.
Rank can be divided into different types:
Social Rank is generally unearned, and its relative powers and privileges are supported by social norms. They cover areas such as gender, class, ethnicity, colour, wealth, nationality and education.
Local or Situated Rank arises in a particular situation and is specific to an individual’s position in that situation. Someone’s high social rank may not apply in a particular social situation such as the workplace.
Psychological/Spiritual Rank is the power that you gain from life experiences, particularly overcoming and surviving difficult and challenging situations; or it may come from a feeling of connection to a higher power or to nature/the environment, etc.
Within an organisation or workplace, local rank issues are going to be to the fore. Organisations have hierarchies, and people with more authority will have higher rank. Differences in pay, authority, responsibility will all come into play. Who has the biggest office, where someone’s desk is situated, what resources they have access to will also affect a persons feeling of power, security and wellbeing. Cultural norms within the organisation will also come into play. Particular forms of behaviour or ways of thinking will be valued differently; some more highly; some will be disapproved of.
Rank affects the way that people interact with each other. It affects the level of trust people have of each other and it affects how safe they feel with each other. It affects the way that they can and will have conflict with each other.
Don’t get judgemental about your rank or the rank of others; there is nothing you can actually do about your rank. You can, however, do something about how you use your rank. If you are in a high rank situation, use it positively. Be aware of it and the advantages it gives you and use these advantages in a positive way.
By becoming more aware of your rank and the rank of others can shed a lot of light on the relationship dynamic and behaviour in an organisation, workplace or team. You can start by taking stock of your own rank and then looking at how that may be affecting your behaviour and reactions to others. If this is done by others in your organisation or team, and shared and talked about it can radically change the way you interact and behave.
Taking stock of your Rank
The purpose of this exercise is to become more aware of your own rank so that you can own it and use it more consciously. You can do the first part of this exercise on your own. If you want you can use it with your team or a group that you are part of.
What rank do you identify with? Be specific about situations in which you have:
- Social rank
- Situational/Local rank
- Psychological/Spiritual rank
Write the answers down and think about how they make you feel or act. Make some notes
Talk to someone else about doing this exercise. Start by celebrating your rank. Remember that rank just is and that by occupying it and using it consciously people with lower rank will be less affected in a negative way
- Feedback to the whole group and discuss
- How does rank affect relationships in this group?
Few of us are free of problems, each day presents challenges and situations that need our attention and requires us to deal with them in a way that gets them resolved with the minimum of disturbance to our lives. We can see them with an attitude of glass half empty or glass half full. Seeing a problem with an attitude of glass half-empty you could be identified as having a problem-thinking approach that focuses on what is immediately wrong and all the difficulties in why it cannot be easily; if at all resolved.
As a problem thinker you think only of and see only what is wrong, you become enmeshed in your present situation that you have identified as a problem. When your thinking is problem focused, you review the consequences of the problem, you analyse its history, identify the people and circumstances responsible for creating it and the consequences for you in your life, work or organisation. In problem thinking you recognise your problems with your prejudices; giving a negative label to a situation, rather than viewing it as neither good nor bad and recognise it as objectively as we can. Albert Einstein said “One should never impose views on a problem; rather one should study it and in time a solution will reveal itself”.
As a problem solver you screen out the possible opportunities that are being presented to you; that can provide solutions to your current ‘problem’ situation. Indeed the solutions may be right in front of you; and you cannot see them as you are thinking only on the problem and its consequences in your life. Problem thinking re-enforces your prejudices and your disenabling beliefs about who you are and what you can and cannot do.
With a non-judgmental attitude begin to examine your beliefs about yourself that are informing your limiting view of what you can do to resolve your problem. Beliefs influence the perspective that you look at a problem and how you interpret it. If you believe that there is no such thing as failure only feedback; then you view a situation you have not succeeded in, not as a failure rather it is feedback as to how you can approach the situation differently; that is, in a way that has a greater potential for success. If you believe you always have got a choice you begin to look for a better choice. If you accept that you have got all the resources you need to find a solution to your problem you will seek to access your deepest wisdom to assist you in resolving your problem. You begin to apply a new and creative approach that is informed by empowering rather than limiting beliefs.
Beliefs are formed as a result of our experiences, we may see them as permanent and we begin to react in situations as if they are true. They become self-fulfilling prophesies. If you believe that you are an open friendly person you will act that way and behave in a friendly sociable manner. People will respond in a friendly manner and so confirm your belief. Changing our belief system not only helps to solve a problem but can also change the thinking that leads to the problem in the first place. By changing your beliefs you have a different response to a problem situations, you act differently; not only in a way that solves the presenting problem but also in a way that leads to new experiences; that have benefits outside the context of the problem. Empowering beliefs are beliefs that empower you to make positive changes as they change how you feel about things and they allow you to change your behavior.
Looking at a problem with a changed belief system is core to becoming a problem solver. You can see the problem from a different perspective; you can use a different thinking than you had when the problem was first created. Referring again to Albert Einstein who said that “the significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” To change the “same level of thinking” you need to change the beliefs that informed that thinking.
Become aware that you are free to choose your beliefs; you can choose to be proactive in bringing a new belief into your life that will allow you to be a person that is a problem solver. You not only see the glass as half full, you see that it contains opportunities to solve the problem; opportunities that you are empowered to choose with confidence.
We are proud to launch our new website on www.knockalla.net. The website gives detailed information on the services that we offer to individuals, businesses, organisations and communities.
The site is easy to navigate with short introductions to each of our service areas: coaching, mediation, organisational change, and healthy conflict. If you want more detailed information on a particular area this is available by following the link at the end of the introduction. So, if you are interested in coaching, there is a brief introduction and by going to the more detailed information you can read about the benefits of coaching and the different types of coaching.
We aim to be available to our clients and the public in general. So on the site there are links to the individual LinkedIn profiles of Nora Newell and Tim Spalding. There is also a link to our Facebook page where you can become a fan by clicking the ‘like’ button. That way you can keep in touch with us and interact with us on an ongoing basis.
We enjoyed developing the website with Anthony McGlynn of McGlynn Graphics (www.mcglynngraphics.ie), who gave a great personal service; responding to and coping with our chops and changes. Thanks Anthony!
We hope you find the new website useful and look forward to working with you in the future!
Nora & Tim