The Psychodynamics of Organizations

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version
TitleThe Psychodynamics of Organizations
Publication TypeBook
Pub Year1993
AuthorsHirschorn, L.
Secondary AuthorsBaum, H. S., Trist E. L., Krantz J., Barnett C. K., Feldman S. P., Gilmore T. N., Gould L. J., Hirschorn L., KetsDeVries M. F. R., Lapierre L., Schwartz H. S., Swogger G., Thomas D. A., Young D. R., Zaleznik A., & Diamond M. A.
Keywordsalexithymia, false self, organization man, organizational ideal, organizational psychodynamics, rationality, retribution, submissiveness, supportiveness
Notes "A wide variety of approaches that guide investigation of organizational life have openly and strongly challenged the assumption that organizations behave as rational systems." (p. xiv) "Managers and executives in contemporary organizations must exercise great initiative while delegating substantial authority to those below them. It is no longer adequate simply to give and take orders. But as people experience greater freedom in their roles, they must also confront the anxieties and conflicts that bedevil them when they exercise authority. The external world of work is shaped increasingly by people's inner feelings and interior experiences. When people cannot take up their authority freely and without undue conflict and anxiety, they fear that authentic self-expression, the full flowering of their resources and vitality, will hurt them. As the three cases presented above suggest, in the face of this prospect some people will behave in inhibited ways, while others will mask their insecurity and neediness by overreaching and demanding too much. In this sense, we can say that people are relying on what Winnicott (1959 [1965], 1960 [1965]) calls a 'false self,' as opposed to a 'true self,' to take up their roles. They will, as a result, lack flexibility and vitality, and instead they will often behave in repetitive, constricted, non-task-oriented, and frequently self-defeating ways." (p. 60) "Organizations give alexithymics great opportunities to blend into the organizational culture. These organizational environments legitimize what otherwise may be looked at as strange may very well be that certain types of organizations go even further in that they possess the kind of numbing quality that awakens dormant alexithymic tendencies in their employees." (p. 210) "In explaining his failure to get ahead, he used the following analogy to to describe the dangers of acting aggressively or politically at work. Among coyotes, males are born into a pack; you have a whole litter. You have men who will never become leaders because of their biology, their genetics. And you have some more aggressive cubs, and they will do whatever they need to do to become leaders. And they have to eat the pack leader. And he never gives up until he can't resist any longer. I think I was born in that other group. When puppies are born, they do all sorts of things to give the dominant male his rights, and they will do all sorts of growling, and the puppy will turn over. There are linkages back and forth between humans and coyotes. Somehow I must not ever have given my bosses that yelp and stomach up, and they sensed it. And I never got the membership and support I needed." (p. 34) "In a landmark article, Schwartz (1987) constructed a theory of the 'organizational ideal' in which organization members, unwilling to face their imperfect selves, imagine that the organization contains the secret route to their ideal selves. Projecting their hidden grandiosity onto the organization, they repress their own sense of limits and failure and come to believe that the organization and its leaders are perfect. In such a culture, members have contempt for one another, or for at least those who stand nearer the bottom of the organization, since only by rising to the top can a person prove that he or she approximates the organizational ideal. Competition between peers is then justified, since the organizations perfection can be protected only if the unworthy are eliminated or put in their place. Mutuality between peers is consequently inhibited and feelings are denied." (p. 75) "Finally, a managers ability to accept these projections, especially the negative ones of subordinates (e.g., dependency, hatred, envy), without retribution or retaliation helps to create what Winnicott terms a 'holding environment'--that is, an environment that provides a sense of psychological safety within which work can productively be accomplished and people can grow and develop in their roles." (p. 61)
Full Text