Leadership – is the art to support and encourage others to achieve common goals.
Good leaders are enablers, helping people and organizations to perform, develop and master changes.
Leadership requires strong emotional intelligence and empathy to reflect people's needs and necessary changes. Reality shows that this is easier to understand than to apply in practice.
The acting, direction and success of organizations depend decisively on the competencies and maturity of those people who are in power.
When talking about leadership, you can quickly get into very controversial discussions about power and the misuse of power, social responsibilities and justice, free spirits, community sharing and declination of authorities, something between peace & love and authorities.
It’s an emotional topic because as written above, its appearance depends on the personality of human beings.
In this article, I’ll explain, by using Transactional Analysis models, what leadership means, what makes someone a leader and reflect on leadership styles and complementary behaviour.
Do people need leadership?
Human beings have the inherent need to know how to spend their life time, to be secure and guided, to feel safe, respected and accepted. The need to structure time is aimed to be spent on such activities which secures one’s survival, to get inspired and accepted by others. Thus we have social rituals, search challenges, are engaged in professional and private activities and establish intimate relations to special people.
Doing this, we follow universally accepted rules, laws and people who are guiding us to achieve common aims and objectives, who empower and protect us.
Sometimes, we all just need somebody who sees the light at the end of the tunnel for us ;-)
What is leadership?
There is no general definition of leadership. The common basic ground defines leadership as the ability to lead people in order to realize specific, measurable objectives.
For me, leadership is organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal by influencing them. Leaders influence people directly through personal competencies and indirectly through organizational structures, systems and tools, e.g. human resources management, customer relationship management, quality management, business indicators, planning systems, etc.
Leadership is a part of the management as leaders have to plan, coordinate and control activities, resources and people.
Leaders are in a certain position/role in an organisation, who are equipped with the power to take decisions.
As leadership is always focussed on the achievement of certain goals, the required personal competencies of those leading people depend on what is needed in a specific situation in the organisation.
Therefore, leadership is always balancing personal competencies and relations to colleagues and employees in accordance with the aims of the organization, and the own role/position. This is a permanent, ongoing process.
What makes someone a leader?
There are no natural born leaders.
Charisma and having the authority alone does not make that people follow with all their passion and energy to achieve a common goal.
It’s a set of meta-competencies which characterize leaders:
- able to cope with high pressure, occurring through changing situations, competitors, colleagues, employees, time limitations, etc.
- conscious about own strengths & weaknesses: they know their strengths and the negative sides of it, what is needed in certain situations, which competencies they want/need to improve and develop.
- able to do self-reflexion & self-regulation. They are keeping the countenance (poise) towards others and own abilities, they are able to recognize and reflect on own behaviour and know how to avoid own negative behaviour.
Knowledge about own behaviour patterns and the ability to analyze them is the key of a high interpersonal intelligence. We need to know not only our strengths but also our dark sides to be able to act positively and according to the situation/moment and stay flexible in complex situations and roles.
Let’s try to understand the complex human personality a bit better.
How we behave and function
I guess, that everybody already recognized that people can appear in different modes. Sometimes the same person appears as a clear, strategic thinking person, in another situation like a defiant child or an authoritarian despot.
To understand and analyze such behaviour and the related feelings and thoughts, we structure it according to their appearance: like a child, an adult, a parent. In TA we call it Ego States.
There are no stereotypes which might be an excuse for behaving in a certain way, but by analyzing our own behaviour (and that of others) we can widen our perspectives and understand our own, unique patterns of behaviour and their likely consequences. It helps to observe and understand the complex system of feeling, thinking and behaving of a person.
On the one hand, we can understand where the behaviour is coming from, on the other hand, how it appears in action.
The Parent Ego State has a positive as well as a negative side:
A person, acting in a thoughtful, constructive manner can lead in a foresighted manner to influence others, in a positive way, by also being supportive and giving orientation. Too much of all of this turns this behaviour into a negative effect: it diminishes the abilities and willingness of others to think, act and behave responsibly.
However, using this Ego State we express the grade of our professional and social responsibility, how we behave as an answer to the behaviour of others.
The Adult Ego State is visible through clear, fair, objective and an appropriate behaviour.
The Child Ego State has also a positive and a negative appearance.
On the one hand, a thoughtful behaviour conform to social standards and rules, a free, creative mind is, without any question, desirable. The flipside, too much of conformity is visible in rebellious behaviour and recklessness.
The behaviour we show decides what is our self-understanding and how we are in contact with others.
In both Parent and Child ego states we are replaying, or automatically re-acting, archaic material. When triggered into doing this, we have no choices; we just play things the same old way once again. It is in the Adult ego state that we have our choice of options (Berne 1961 Transactional Analysis In Psychotherapy: a systematic individual and social psychiatry, p.76). When we are in Adult we are in touch with and account for present reality: "The Adult ego state consists of one's current age-appropriate motor behaviour; one's emotional, cognitive and moral development; one's ability to be creative, and one's full contactful capacity for engagement in meaningful relationships." (Erskine & Moursund 1988: Integrative Psychotherapy in Action, p.20)
We can easily recognize the different modes of others by watching gestures, listen to the sound of the voice and the words used. To realize our own behaviour, we need to look into ourselves and reflect, if we react according to the current situation or, if we react like we always did when being a child.
Self-reflection and self-regulation is the key meta-competency a leader needs to have as this ability impacts our relations to others.
Behavioural Modes 1
The Ego States model eases to understand the source and appearance of our behaviour.
Analyzing personalities demands professional support but leaders (as well as all other people) need to understand the different behavioural modes with their positive and negative effects they encounter in themselves and others.
Giving each mode a name makes it easier to assign distinctive characteristics and differentiate more precisely between them.
Control - dominating mode
When in this mode, we focus on negative aspects, on mistakes. We think to be in the right and require from others to conform and insist on obedience. It’s not only that we force others, but also ourselves. We impend, warn, punish.
Others might conform or be rebellious.
Control - structuring mode
In this mode, we empower through inspiration, we motivate and help others in using their potential. We set achievable aims and establish supportive structures. This can lead to great team spirit and to the development of others’ competencies.
Care - overcockering mode
We shower others with help, support, attention, we mix up needs with wishes. We put ourselves on a pedestal. This leads to sadness, frustration and leave alone others. As a results, we are confused because we get no thanks and are left disappointed.
We did not understand that too much support hinders a healthy personal development regarding achievable aims, expectations and possibilities.
Care - nurturing mode
This mode is the back side of the overcockering mode. We show our empathy and respect for others and ourselves, we do not depreciate others nor ourselves. We encourage the development of implicit confidence, self-esteem and acceptance of oneself and others.
Socialized Self - cooperative mode
We are self-assured, friendly and considerate to others. We are able to listen, to give, to find solutions. We have good relations to others and enjoy spending our time with them.
Socialized Self - compliant/resistant mode
The back side of the cooperative mode, when we feel overstrained. Depending on how we like to react in such situations, we tend to be rebellious or have over-conformed behaviour. However, we get nervous, make mistakes and are constantly between rebellion and the wish to please.
Natural self - spontaneous mode
In this mode we are free, creative, vital, we are uninhibited to do whatever we like without losing the appropriate sense for our situation, position and age.
The individual temperament decides how we can balance between lavishness and aloofness.
Natural self - immature mode
Here, we do not take any responsibility, we do not care about the consequences of our actions nor do we make provisions. We easily lose control of oneself, have no sense for appropriate reactions or thoughtful behaviour. We are selfish.
Reality Assessment mode
We are in the here and now, fully aware of our thoughts, feeling and behaviour and open for incitations from others. We are able to select logically what is necessary to develop strategies, making decisions and are realistic concerning the situation.
Even if we know our weaknesses, our sore points triggering our negative modes, we are not completely able to eliminate those behaviours which limits our positive attitude but we can control it to a certain extent.
We easily integrated the positive modes into our Adult Ego State. There, we also transferred our negative modes, which, ideally, we keep behind closed doors, always remembering the situations when they occur.
However, the following graphic make clear, that our behaviour, thinking and feeling in the present is determined by all these five behaviour modes described above.
Our acting in the here and now might be blighted by manifested behaviour from our childhood, e.g., a person, always against anything others say or provide probably activated her rebellious (child) behaviour mode.
We all know situations where we not fully assess the current situation, when parts of our negative modes blight our reality assessment. Then, we behave automatically as we always did in our childhood, we do not act autonomously, our judgement is warped.
And everybody has its own favorite mode when triggered with unforeseen or insecure situations. This has a very simple advantage: we instantly know what to do as we survived such situations long time before, we do not have to think, it is subconcious, it just happens to us.
As written above, depending on the situation and objectives of the organization, different competencies, different leadership styles are required.
There might be situations where it’s not helpful to start a participatory process, where just fast decisions are necessary without paying attention to a common agreement.
Leadership styles are the expressed behaviours of the leader. However, each behaviour mode has its complementary mode, each behaviour provokes a certain reaction.
When describing the leadership styles I am looking for the symbiotic relations between the different modes.
The leader is in priority in the dominating mode. Decisions are taking solely by the leader, others are depreciated:
- I am the only one working
- I am the only one who is taking responsibility
- The others can’t do it, they do not know how to solve that
- The others don’t take responsibility
The leader is almost always overstressed. The others, often gave up, don’t really take responsibilities, they mentally quit their job. Whatever they do, they can’t suit the leader.
When behaving like this, we call it a symbiotic relation: the parties behave complementary regarding their responsibilities. The leader acts over-responsibly, has fear to loose control or to show feelings, and prefers to act independently.
The others don’t realise their true potential and are prone to give their responsibility away, they are passive, depreciating the leader and oneself.
All in all, this style is very destructive, it kills creativity and positive development of people.
This style is the mild form of the authoritarian style, paired with the power to punish or promote somebody, e.g. decisions about bonus, further qualification, replacements, etc.
The danger is, that these activities appear sounded and clear, but often hides a patriarchal thinking which goes along with depreciation of others. It's a kind of manipulation through kudos and blame.
- He/she can't take this responsibility as he/she is already overloaded with work or other problems
- You haven't yet enough experience to do this job
- You are too young/new in this job
This leads to a competitive and distrusted working climate and over-conformity of employees. They take only those responsibilities which are given, they do not show any initiative.
Rebellion is also possible, as those personalities do not see the manipulation behind. If they push the border of their area of responsibility, they will be rebuked.
Depending on their personalities, they still believe that they can achieve and decide independently and are building social coalitions with like-minded peopl. Thus they spend more energy in “if I would have the saying” discussions then in their work.
This is also a symbiotical and therefore destructive relation between the leader and the others and works perfectly when people with the complementary basic convictions come together:
I am the boss and knows best who can do what → I take the responsibility which is assigned to me.
The leader has the power to decide, punish and reward and has also excellent professional knowledge. The leader knows how to combine and motivate others to create an open and cooperative working atmosphere, to achieve a common goal.
It works mostly in closed units, e.g. product development, marketing, ect., where disturbing influences are assessed constructively and changes are possible.
This style is focused on rational solution and makes a flexible, free cooperation between the leader and the others in large parts possible.
However, there is still a manipulative component as the leader has the power to punish and reward and tends to be selective in giving responsibilities and promotion:
- They still need my support
- It won’t work without me
- I still need to push forward
The others are convinced that they could not achieve the goals without leaders’ support. They are eager to please.
In long term, this can be very demotivating and lead to rebellion or passive behaviour.
Anyway, that style seems to be the preferred leadership style in many organizations. It conveys an open, motivational organization culture but it often has a dark side.
This is nearly an ideal leadership style.
The leader is using all his/her knowledge, power, influence, empathy to support, motivate and guide others. He/she is taking care of others without depreciating, enables free development and acts respectfully. It’s not about creating a paradise, it means a realistic solution - and resource-oriented behaviour. Changes are a self-evident part of the job/life. In short, both parties, the leader and the others are acting like autonomous adults.
There are many different approaches on analyzing leadership. I looked at leadership and leadership styles from the behaviour appearance and I hope, I made clear, that leadership is not naturally given and there is no singular characteristic.
Of course, nobody wants to be declared as authoritarian or controlling leader, but signs of such a behaviour are more often visible than expected.
What we can notice is a preferred behaviour in a certain situation. We can't change our personality but we can change our behaviour.
And there is another point I would like to mention. It is a myth to think that we can split our personality in a professional and private one. We only have one and we often behave in the same way or complementary in our professional and private context. Wherever we change our behaviour, it will for sure impact our personality as a whole.
Roles and Context
Roles and context are decisive basics for respectful relations and independence.
Leaders are NOT a part of team, they are in a different role. They lead the team.
A clear distance and self-understanding of the role is necessary to avoid manipulative behaviour which leads to social competition and distrust.
The leader needs to understand the necessity of a healthy, respectful distance which enables free and creative development of itself and others.
Though not only leaders should to be able to change their behaviour flexibly according to the situational context. (You might be a teacher but at home you are a father, a completely different role!)
Leaders are a part of the leadership team. There, they are equal to others.
Organizational culture is the collective behaviour of humans that are part of an organization. It is also formed by the organization values, visions, norms, working language, systems, and symbols, it includes beliefs and habits.
As written above, a part of the leadership takes place through organizational structures and rules.
Rules, organisational systems, standards, codes of conduct are made or at least initiated by leaders and it depends on their personalities which culture they create, which image they transmit to newcomers or the outside world and how the organization will be developed. The less permissive the culture of an organization is, the more closed off the organization is towards changes.
In general, the more leaders act free of reality distortion, appropriate to the current needs and objectives of the organisation and staff, the more efficient is the leadership.
A respectful, open cooperation, free of manipulation as well as depreciation results in a lot of love and peace. ;-)
- Ute & Heinrich Hagehülsmann: Der Mensch im Spannungsfeld seiner Organisation: Transaktionsanalyse in Managementtraining, Coaching, Team- und Personalentwicklung, ISBN-13: 978-3873870383