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Leading High Performing Teams in Turbulent Times

Professor Manfred Kets de Vries and Professor Graham Ward from INSEAD have a discussion on how the psychodynamic orientation to leadership can be helpful to guide people through the present crisis. Referring to Kets de Vries’ recent eBook, Journeys into Coronavirus Land: Lessons from the Pandemic, leadership in times of crisis is one of the subjects. Found below is an excerpt from their discussion.

Presently, as is for all to see, most leaders are not great examples of rationality. The leader’s shadow side—his or her internal fears, disillusionments, or past demons—prevents movement and change. Such behavior can be compared to riding a dead horse. Experience has taught that many leaders have a false hope that the dead horse they’re on will get up and gallop. In reality, if you believe that you are riding a dead horse, the best thing you can do is to dismount! The challenge for many leaders is to find the courage and energy to break through their self-imposed limitations. In that respect, mental health is having a choice. Even more than that, mental health has to do with making wise choices. But this question becomes irrelevant because many leaders don’t know themselves. They don’t know their strengths and weaknesses. Instead, many of them suffer from hubris, to eventually self-destruct. What doesn’t help in creating great places to work is that many leaders don’t get the best out of their people. In addition, in many instances, their teams are not aligned, contributing to silo-like behavior. And furthermore, many corporate cultures seem to have a gulag quality, making people feel unsafe. Consequently, very few organizations have what I have called an authentizotic quality, places of work where people feel alive.

Anyone wanting to create or manage a high performance organization needs to understand the psychodynamics of leadership, teams, and organizational culture. This is not to minimize such factors as economies of scale or scope, the company’s market position, and its technological capabilities. An organization, however, can have all the advantages in the world—strong financial resources, enviable market position, and state-of the-art technology—but if its leadership fails, all these advantages melt away and the organization—like the driverless car—runs downhill. In other words, great organizations realize the importance of talent and culture management. And they pay attention to what happens on the surface and under the surface.

Watch a highlight reel of Professor Kets de Vries and Professor Ward’s discussion below.