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Real Leadership, the Superego, and the Hunger for Self-Approval


What makes a great leader?

It's an age old question that has made executive coaches, business psychologists, and sociologists employable, constantly refining their assumptions on why and how we follow someone.

The physical, the emotional and the mental makeup of leaders comes in a variety of forms. With the advancement of technology, pervasive arguments that leadership has become defunct with automation gain popularity, albeit with no real base or evidence.

Fact is, everyone needs to be led. Even leaders!

In the depths of the modern psychology, the human mind and subsequent conscious and unconscious behavior are studied to the most granular of details.Leadership

Let's take a look at the human character makeup on a mindset level

Let's assume that leaders are innately tasked with preserving the life of an organization(team, business, entity). We can assume that because it's true  -- and their resulting behavior to ensure survival is a combination of drives, needs, expectations, and external demands.

Stay with me here -- Psychoanalytical theory, as formulated by Sigmund Freud, states there are three structures of personality: the id, the ego, and the ego ideal(superego).

Simply, the id consists of a constructive drive(personality driven forces like love, growth) and deconstructive drive(hate, contraction) which makes up one's instincts. You are born with your id and it is not in touch with the outside world.

Your ego, which is developed through your personal experiences, is the executive part of the brain that controls, guides, and directs the pressure from the id. Ideally the ego works by reason, whereas the id is chaotic and totally unreasonable.

The ego ideal(or superego) is the most fun and the one I want to concentrate on. This is the the internalized image that you have of yourself at your best. This image is constructed from your expectations those around you like your parents, friends, and mentors.

It also has the function of persuading the ego to turn to moralistic goals rather than simply realistic ones and to strive for perfection.

As Mark Twain puts it, "it may be called the master passion, the hunger for self-approval."

So, what makes a leader different?

Everyone in life must choose their vocation. That is part of growing up as an adult. Naturally, you are free from your parents.

Honestly, if you're looking for step one, deliberately choosing your vocation is a pretty good start to figuring out what and how you can lead something of significance in your life.

Leaders then understand that everyone brings their own personality to any organization. Attitudes, expectations and modes of behavior must all be properly managed (hence why technology can't replace leadership).

People often justify themselves by their aspirations.

A leader knows that most people are guided by a personal governor: their superego. People often justify their right to be alive by chasing who they want to become. Sound familiar?

LeadersIt is a psychological truism that people tend to recapitulate their early family experiences in their subsequent activities, mainly work. Taking over the family business is a common trend that we see in Western Culture. Or wanting to be entrepreneurs like your parents, etc.

To that point, to understand the meaning of work has for people, leaders do well to know the kinds of families their team comes from.

The "empowerment" movement that has become en vogue in leadership circles is merely this: Motivations for work are strengthened as a team member is given greater opportunity to master their work in keeping with the task at hand.

Leaders know that work is critical for humans to attain and maintain psychological balance. People fulfill psychological needs with their work.

Also, leaders can grasp how paramount they are on how subordinates perceive themselves as adults -- whether subordinates are able to fulfill their deepest needs of their superego or whether they consider themselves a failure.

The challenge for leaders

As stated, the main concern for top leaders is the long-term survival of the organization. Therefore, we can conceptualize that a team members relationship to the organization is vital to the long-term survivability.

Because without a team, the organization is dead.

People that serve in the organization have a basic two-fold mission. Work on the organizational task at hand(the mission of the org) and work on fulfilling deep psychological needs and tasking. "Meaning" is the most important reason why people show up to work and, subsequently, freely divest trust in their leadership.

This leadership by consent is temporary. It must be earned every single day. For people are seeking meaning. And as a leader, it is your inherent responsibility to give it to them.

Psychological buy-in is what leaders seek. And it's the challenge that typically pays top dollar.

About the author, Tim

US Navy Surface Warfare Officer.
Lacrosse Player.

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