BRINGING FREUD BACK INTO THE WORKPLACE
The pendulum, according to Freudian psychologist Shelley Reciniello, has swung too far. So much emphasis is based on behavioral psychology – solving problems by changing behavior – that we have forgotten the impact that our subconscious can have on the world of work. In The Conscious Leader, Reciniello describes in detail that impact – and how leaders can overcome the damage that the subconscious can sometimes wreak when we least expect it.
Sabotage from the Subconscious
Why do the best-laid plans sometimes go unexpectedly wrong? Reciniello describes an investment bank that convinced a competitors’ leading trader to join its ranks. Unfortunately, the former ace was not just a failure at bringing in new business, but also proved to be a divisive influence.
What happened? For the head of the sales and trading division in the first example, she writes, “his unacknowledged fantasy was to relive his own younger, glory days through the ace.” Not satisfied with the caution and judgment of his team, he brings in a narcissistic and reckless individual who creates havoc instead of success.
To combat the insidious destruction of hidden feelings and motivations, Reciniello identifies in The Conscious Leader nine psychological phenomena, presented as psychological principles, that, like termites in the foundation of a home, can quietly undermine the best intentioned people, projects and actions and send everything suddenly crashing to the ground.
The first principle is that, Reciniello writes, “human beings are not rational, and every day their illogical unconscious minds are walking into offices with hidden agendas.” People have hidden agendas and secret motivations. This is the first and overarching phenomenon in the workplace: the subconscious exists and will create problems. The antidote to the negative impact of the “unconscious life of your company,” in Reciniello’s terms, is to “make the unconscious conscious, and build a culture of conscious awareness” by looking behind the curtain (what you see is not what you get); listening deeply; becoming comfortable with not knowing; asking “why” even if it makes you feel vulnerable; and letting other people ask “why” without retribution.
After looking at the organization as a whole, Reciniello then focuses on the leader. Her second psychological principle is, “Self-delusion is the single biggest trap for a leader.” While leaders may be willing to believe that others in the organization are probably dealing with psychological issues that are impeding their success, Reciniello has found that these same leaders are blind to their own Achilles heels.
Another important principle is summarized as, “Everyone has preconceived notions of others, and these are largely unconscious.” Be aware of prejudices – and not only your own but also, as Reciniello demonstrates through stunning stories of prejudice and sabotage, the people in your organization charged with promoting diversity. A woman tasked with increasing the presence of women in a company’s executive ranks had actually, she writes, “made a career of being ‘the only woman’ and wanted to keep it that way.” While the other women in her company soon realized that she would do everything to stop their careers, the executives, all men, had no inkling of what was going on.
Among the other nine principles explored in this book are principles related to group thinking and gang rule; the family baggage that is brought to the workplace; the importance of dealing with conflict, anger and power; the recognition of defense mechanisms, the psychological impact of change; and the hard work and unrelenting focus needed to prevent bad habits from taking over again.
Don’t Forget Freud
Reciniello does not discount the contributions of behavioral psychology. Nor does she expect leaders to become psychoanalysts. “I am not asking you to psychoanalyze your employees,” she writes in a chapter on defense mechanisms. “You shouldn’t. But hopefully, you will begin to recognize defense mechanisms and target issues in yourself and in others, and how they may interact.” The greatest contribution of The Conscious Leader is this call to awareness, to become emotionally intelligent but on two the subconscious.