Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

Good Enough Leadership: A Model of Leadership

Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

Good Enough Leadership: A Model of Leadership

Article excerpt


The authors propose a model of organisational leadership that is founded upon D. W. Winnicott's concept of "good enough mothering". The "good enough" leader (GEL) contrasts with "hard" and "soft" leadership. The psychodynamics of all three types of leadership are discussed, with special attention to the work of Thomas Ogden on the "autistic-contiguous" mode of experience. Stories are presented that illustrate "hard" and "good enough" leadership. "Good enough" leadership is characterised by values of openness, inclusiveness, transparency, collaboration, mutual trust, and mutual respect. The authors argue that the GEL attempts to create a playful, while serious, space in which new ideas and solutions may emerge. "Good enough" leadership can be decisive without being top-down, command and control, and often brutal. The authors present ways in which the model can be used in training/teaching future organisational leaders.

Key words: organisational leadership, psychoanalysis, Winnicott, Ogden, management, play.


Leadership is a topic that has been written about for thousands of years. It is not our intention here to attempt a review of the immense literature on leadership and management styles, methods, and skills. What we will have to say here does not easily fit within the scope of most of what has been written or advocated with respect to effective leadership. We use psychoanalytic perspectives to describe what perhaps is a new form of leadership, what we will call "good enough" leadership.

In this paper we propose a model of "good enough" organisational leadership, after D. W. Winnicott's idea of a "good enough" mother (1965). Specifically, the "good enough" leader (GEL), like the "good enough" mother, does not try to be obsessively and compulsively perfect, machine-like, in his or her attunement with and response to the organisation. Rather the GEL does his or her best to contain, absorb, reflect upon, and respond to the anxiety of fellow members of the organisation in the service of performing organisational tasks. The "good enough" style of leadership contrasts with two culturally widespread and familiar styles of leadership we will call "hard" and "soft". The psychodynamics of these three modes will be explored shortly.

However, the focus of our argument will be on the contrast between "hard" and "good enough" leadership. "Soft" leaders, while also frequently encountered, are by their nature much less overtly destructive of people and organisations, producing rather a slow acting dynamic of entropy. We shall contend that the concept of "good enough" leadership has both heuristic value and the capacity to understand and to help management. We first situate our contribution in a broader methodological, theoretical, and historical context.

Limits of empirical research

Empirical research is perhaps the dominant paradigm in the effort to understand and explain organisational leadership. We are of the view that empirical research into leadership styles and organisational dynamics is problematic in and of itself, and because it neglects the psychodynamics that drive much of what one finds in organisations. As a result the approach is compromised. This is underscored by the following statement from the Encyclopaedia of Business.

Leadership is probably the most frequently studied topic in the organizational sciences. Thousands of leadership studies have been published and thousands of pages on leadership have been written in academic books and journals, business-oriented publications, and general-interest publications. Despite this, the precise nature of leadership and its relationship to key criterion variables such as subordinate satisfaction, commitment, and performance is still uncertain, to the point where Fred Luthans, in his book Organizational Behavior (2005), said that "it [leadership] does remain pretty much of a 'black box' or unexplainable concept. …

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